Their country at war, the Ukrainians are proud of their Euro

To say that Ukraine did not come to the Euros in the best possible conditions is an understatement. Weeks before the start of this Euro, Ukrainians are meeting with a mission to lift the spirits of the inhabitants of a war-torn country. They begin their operation… doing the exact opposite.

The formation coached by Ainars Bagatskis, whose « home » matches must now take place at the Riga Arena in the Latvian capital, has three losses in a row in the context of the qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup. And does not shine more during warm-up matches. A click is imperative.

 » That’s when we thought of our fans at home. And then we had a team meeting. We decided to come together collectively. A lot of things are happening at home, so we thought we had to play with more intensity. Lets fight ! Let’s fight, out of respect for the country “Reports the center of the Kings, Alex Len.

Call family in Kyiv

It took a minimum of this fighting spirit of the floors for the 32nd basketball nation in the world to get out of an affordable group C (Greece, Croatia, Italy, Estonia and Great Britain). They will finally not be long in setting the record straight. In a not-to-lose opening game against the British, they won easily by a margin of 29 points (90-61).

 » This is important, not only for Ukraine but for all of Europe. You saw what happened in Ukraine with the war, which is not against Ukraine. It is against civilization. It’s not an easy time for the players to be here, but they’re doing their best, and I’m proud of them. “, Congratulates after this first success Ainars Bagatskis, delighted to rely on a few NBA players to ensure a minimum of exposure to his team.

His playmaker, Denys Lukashov, does not hide the fact that it is not obvious  » to focus only on basketball knowing what is happening in our country right now « .  » I call home every day. Some days, I manage to reach my family. Others, no. After a day, maybe two, they still let me know they’re fine “, says the pivot Artem Pustovyi, who has relatives living near the capital, kyiv.

Giannis Antetokounmpo brings Ukraine down to earth

Despite this context, the team’s best player, recently cut by the Raptors, Svi Mykhailiuk, recalls the collective mission in progress: This tournament means a lot, especially in times of war. This is a great opportunity for us to bring joy to the people back home and divert their attention from the war by showing them some great basketball. »

So after Great Britain, Ukraine continues: a narrow victory against Estonia (74-73), then a much less expected success against Italy (84-73), yet at home.

Three matches, three wins. The Ukrainian formation is like a dream from which Giannis Antetokounmpo will take care of getting them out. Outclassed by the Greek beast (41 points in… 27 minutes!), the Ukrainians had to concede their first heavy defeat (79-99), before losing again against Bojan Bogdanovic’s Croatia (85-90).

Balance sheet: three wins and two losses but a qualification in the round of 16 with a very honorable second place in the group (tied with Croatia and Italy).

Direction Berlin to face Poland. Quite a symbol. The Polish neighbor is an unconditional ally of Ukraine and a resolute adversary of Vladimir Putin. At least one million Ukrainian refugees were registered with the Polish government earlier this summer. And nearly 6 million crossings of the common border, more than 500 kilometers long, have been recorded since the start of the war.

Heads Up Elimination

 » The pressure is on us. We do not know what will happen in the coming months or in a year. So there is pressure, but the real pressure is on these guys who are fighting for our freedom. We’re just here playing basketball. It’s a crazy situation. We don’t know if we’ll have a place to go back to “says Alex Len ahead of this first playoff match against this unpredictable Polish nation.

40 minutes of a good fight later, Ukraine must surrender (78-84). AJ Slaughter and Mateusz Ponitka (46 points between them) have the last word. The men in yellow, whose matches have been broadcast in the country, are already leaving the competition but with their heads held high.

 » I hope it inspired them and helped them forget about the war a bit. Today was not a good example but all this time we did our best. I hope they enjoyed it. It’s hard because all the guys’ families are still there. But I appreciated that everyone was there and fought », Greets Svi Mykhailiuk, his team’s top scorer during the Euro (17 points on average) but missed his last match (12 points and 0/8 from afar). The NBA player finishes: It was difficult, but […] I think we did more than everyone expected of us. »

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