When the FIBA World Cup began, the general consensus was that most of the world was playing for third place. The typically unstoppable American juggernaut would barrel through the tournament as it usually does, and waiting for them in the gold medal game would be the young, upstart Serbian team that met them in the 2016 Olympic final. But when the semifinals arrived Friday, neither Team USA nor Serbia was still in the tournament, while the teams that defeated them played for their own shot at the title.
In one semifinal matchup, Argentina, the team that stunned Serbia, took on France, the quarterfinal victor over Team USA. France had relied on its hot three-point shooting to generate offense throughout the World Cup, but when it mattered most, that shooting failed them. France shot seven-of-31 from behind the arc in this game. That ultimately cost them, in the end, as Argentina won 80-66 to clinch a spot in the championship game.
Waiting for them there will be the No. 2 ranked team in the world and the first team to take down Serbia in this tournament, Spain. It took Spain two overtimes and a superhuman 33-point effort from Marc Gasol, but they finally prevailed 95-88 over Australia to take their own spot in the gold medal game, which will be played on Sunday.
Spain will likely open as the favorite in this game. That choice would be justifiable. While Argentina’s success on the world stage is nothing new, this is not the golden generation team that won gold in 2004. Most of the best players on that team, specifically Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Fabricio Oberto, have retired. Its current roster does not feature a single active NBA player.
But Argentina has proven it is not a team to be underestimated. Both Serbia and France had them vastly outmatched in terms of talent, yet it is Argentina playing for gold behind an excellent tournament from former NBA big man Luis Scola. Spain will present their most difficult test yet, but this team is not going away without a fight. Expect an extremely competitive battle for the gold medal on Sunday between two teams that have earned their berth in the game despite modest pre-tournament expectations.