By Antonis Stroggylakis / firstname.lastname@example.org
Jakarta, Indonesia – The players of the French national team were walking off the court and to their locker room visibly dismayed, with their heads down. Frustration and disappointment were painted on their faces after the loss to Latvia that meant the elimination of Les Bleus from the World Cup two games into the competition.
You read that right. France, the bronze medal winner of the 2019 World Championship, second-placed in the 2022 EuroBasket, was eliminated by a dynamic and sturdier than perhaps most people would think Latvian national team that got the ticket to the next phase.
France star Evan Fournier stopped when he heard his name and the request to ask a couple of questions after such a heartbreaking result.
“We got to go home,” Fournier said. He was the leading scorer of France with a second-straight game, having 27 points on 9-18 shots. “It’s very tough. Very hard. We didn’t think we would leave the tournament like this.”
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Nobody did actually, save of course from the Latvian side who was highly confident that they can push their opponents out to check their own spot in the next stage. France entered the World Cup having the third place in FIBA’s Power Rankings and presenting a roster that included most of the best players the country has to offer right now.
Nicolas Batum is among them. In his return to international basketball after the 2021 Olympic Games for the last World Cup of his career, the captain of France admitted he felt his “biggest disappointment” with the national team.
“I’ve never been ashamed with this jersey but this is the first time I’m ashamed,” Batum said in the post-game presser. “I’m scared to go home because we let a lot of people down. A lot of people believed in us to do something special. We didn’t do it.”
France led 75 – 66 with 6:46 to play when Nando De Colo was ejected after his second technical foul. Latvia had a 2 – 10 run in just two minutes but managed to go ahead only with 37 seconds remaining after Rolands Smits made 2-2 from the line. They remained up.
“They played with a lot of poise and a lot of heart,” Fournier mentioned on Latvia’s comeback down the stretch. “Congratulations to them. They made plays when we didn’t. They deserved it. Congrats to them.”
“We didn’t play as we would have be wanted to obviously,” Fournier added on his team’s collapse. “We didn’t have enough to finish it.”
A bit later, Batum expressed his optimism that France can return strong next year in the Paris Olympics. “We need real commitment from everybody. The reaction will show why we are good and why we are a great team.
“We have to learn from it, come back next year,” Fournier mentioned. “There’s nothing else to do.”
Photo Credit: FIBA.BASKETBALL