MADRID – All those years on Serbia’s national team, and one chance kept eluding Milos Teodosic and Nenad Krstic.
They finally get that shot at the U.S. — with a world title on the line.
Teodosic scored 24 points and Serbia reached the championship game of the Basketball World Cup by holding off France 90-85 on Friday night.
The Serbians will face the defending champion and unbeaten Americans on Sunday.
“We’re not going to be scared for sure,” said Krstic, a former NBA center now playing in Europe.
“Now our confidence is high and OK, we have a chance, maybe some players never get this chance to play against U.S., great U.S. team in the final of the World Cup. It’s an unbelievable chance to do something great in our lives.”
The teams have never met at the senior men’s level since Serbia became an independent nation.
“Every player when he was a kid was dreaming to play in a world championship final, and especially against States,” Teodosic said.
The final caps an unlikely run for the Serbians, who barely made the 24-tournament as the seventh-place finisher in last year’s European qualifier, and then were just 2-3 in the powerful Group A, grabbing the fourth and final spot.
But Serbia has been playing better throughout the single-elimination round. It routed previously unbeaten Greece 90-72 in the round of 16, and then hammered Brazil 84-56 in the quarterfinals.
“I think something clicked,” Krstic said. “We talk a lot in the locker room, and our coach gave us confidence, he always talked to us, he believed in us and something clicked. I don’t have an explanation.”
Teodosic helped Serbia lead by as much as 18, but Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers nearly brought the French all the way back, finishing with 35 points.
Boris Diaw of the San Antonio Spurs added 13 for France, which will play Lithuania on Saturday for the bronze medal.
The French upset Spain in the quarterfinals, ending the expected gold-medal matchup between the Spanish and Americans. But the European champions got off to a slow start that couldn’t be overcome even with their 39-point fourth quarter.
“I think tonight the way we played the first half, we didn’t deserve to win that game,” Diaw said. “Even when we tried to come back, Serbia deserved to win.”
It was 46-32 at halftime, and then Teodosic made another 3 to open the second half and Serbia took a 61-46 advantage to the final period.
But Batum and Evan Fournier started hitting from 3-point range in France’s 15-4 burst to open the period that made it 65-61. The French made nine 3s in the final period and closed to 84-82 when Thomas Heurtel made a free throw with 17 seconds to go, but the Serbians wrapped it up at the foul line.
Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with 13 points for Serbia.