Estonian team hungry for success ahead of European Basketball Championships
The 2022 FIBA (International Basketball Association) men's EuroBasket finals are set to get underway this week, with the Estonian team kicking off their campaign against Italy in Milan on Friday.
Estonia were drawn in Group C for the tournament, meaning, as well as Italy, they will face Greece, Croatia, Ukraine and Great Britain in the first round.
In the lead up to the competition, the Estonian team have played five warm-up matches in preparation for the tournament, as well two qualifying games for the 2023 World Championships.
Following two defeats in early August against Lithuania, Estonia then defeated both Belgium and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Ilmar Kullam 100 Tournament in Tartu. The team's last friendly match before the EuroBasket was on August 19, when they lost away in Riga against Latvia.
In the qualifiers for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which got underway last week, Estonia were first defeated away from home against reigning European champions Slovenia on Thursday, before also losing to Finland on Sunday at Tallinn's Saku Suurhall.
Despite those two defeats, head coach Jukka Toijala remains optimistic. "We've been moving in the right direction during the preparation period, but as is always the case in sport, we've had a few problems. The entire period didn't go quite as we would have liked, with some illnesses and injuries having an impact. Overall, we are moving in the right direction and I think there are no issues here. In every game, certain things have fallen into place and (now) we are ready," said Toijala.
When asked about the team's targets for the EuroBasket, Toijala said his team is young, hungry for success, and prepared to take on any potential opponents. "There has always been a lot of interest in basketball in Estonia, especially over the last few weeks, which is great. Everyone has their own views about what would be a good and appropriate target (for the competition) and they are all entitled to that. However, I'm trying to be realistic and think, as the players have said, that we have a young and hungry team that hasn't yet achieved great results individually or as a group. We're not favorites, but we have a strong belief that if we do what we can do well, then we can beat any team.," said Toijala.
"When we started this project, the goal was to qualify for the European Championships and we've done that. But really, our dream is to play well enough that we can progress to the semi-finals. Now, we'll see how well we can play in the tournament with this young team, but we have to take each day, and each game as it comes," Toijala said.
Around 2,000 basketball fans from Estonia will travel to Milan for Friday's game, with Toijala saying the national team wants to give fans a passionate game with good emotions. "We are ready to give everything we have. We want to give the Estonian fans a passionate game with good emotions, and we want to give it our best. If we do that, it will be easy for the fans to get behind us. But of course, when we have tough moments, we will be looking for the support of the fans on the sidelines, because your support is as important to us as having a sixth man on the court."
The Estonian men's basketball team face Italy in their opening game of the 2022 FIBA EuroBasket Finals on Friday, September 1 at 22:00 Estonian time.
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Editor: Michael Cole