U20 European Championship
|Evan Fournier is the main offensive weapon of a French side that relies heavily on defense|
Italy and France will take the floor first in the opening part of Semi-Finals night at the U20 European Championship in Bilbao, Spain.
Each team had a different way coming here. Each team has a different look and taste to its game.
While France have won all their games so far, Italy fell once in each stage.
For France it's a challenge also against history as just one team in the history of the U20s, and the previous version of U22, managed to go perfect in the championship, and that was in 2006, when Serbia & Montenegro went all the way without losing a single game.
Yet France got a legacy to keep as they have won the gold medal exactly a year ago, when the championship was held in Croatia.
It was the first U20/U22 title for France, yet this year they have a good chance to win back-to-back, something only Serbia (and Serbia & Montenegro) managed to do throughout the years.
Italy won the gold in the first ever tournament, back in 1992, but never again, yet they earned a silver two years later and that was the last time they have reached the title game.
17 years later, it might be time again, after two losses in the Semi-Finals in 2006 and 2007.
Long Hard Road
France are one of the two teams that didn't drop a game so far in this championship. A clean 3-0 record in the Preliminary Round, the same balance in the next phase and then a win over Germany in the Quarter-Finals.
In order to win the gold France will have to finish the tournament with a perfect record, and that's going to be anything but easy.
Italy had a bit more difficult way, when a loss on Day 1 (to Lithuania) was followed by four wins in a row, to take the top spot in their group, and meet Spain in the last day of the Qualifying Round in a battle for first place, which they lost.
In the Quarter-Finals came a great performance by Nicoló Melli that left Montenegro behind.
What Makes Them Special?
All players but one stepped on the floor in all seven games so far for France and all but one play more than 10 minutes per game.
That makes a good example of how wide is the rotation used by coach Jean-Ayme Toupane, one that is there to keep the energy and effort level on defense at maximum.
Yet Italy has more tools than just Alessandro Gentile and the beauty of the team is that different tools step up on different days to support the leading scorer.
|Alessandro Gentile is Italy's leading scorer and fourth overall in the tournament going into the semi-final|
On Quarter-Finals night it was Melli but before him it was Achille Polonara, in another Riccardo Moraschini and also Andrea De Nicolao had a big say.
Who will step up next to the top scorer on the podium fight tonight will be interesting to follow, and even crucial as the French defense is expected to do anything possible to make it harder on Gentile to score.
Stand Out Figures
With France the figures are pretty easy to notice. It's defense, defense and then defense again as the team lead several team defensive statistical categories.
In a more simple way to say it - only one team scored over 60 points against France, and three of their opponents didn't reach even 50.
Yet France doesn't stop there, thanks to Evan Fournier who's ranked sixth in points per game with 16.1, first in steals (2.1) and Top 10 in four other categories.
If France is defense than Italy is by far a more offensive oriented team.
While France allow only 51.9 points, Italy are ranked fourth among all teams here in scoring and stand on 74.0.
Italy is build in the mold of their leading player - Gentile - and are Top 3 also in Field Goal Attempted and 3 Pts Field Goals Made as well as Steals which allow them to create easy points in fast breaks.
Gentile is the leading voice in the team and is ranked fourth in points per game with 18.4, but also hits more three pointers than anyone else, takes more shots from the field and the arc than anyone else, and ranked Top 7 in three other categories.
In the last three games he didn't fall below 22 points and his ability to score will be a key role in this encounter.
In a head to head battle between Gentile and Fournier - two of the top scorers here - their supporting role will make the difference.
How much offensive support will Gentile get? How much the team defense of France will limit Italy? Answer these two questions and most likely you'll know the winner.