HOOPLA: The upcoming EuroBasket 2011 has the whole country showing its support.
RIGA - A basketball is being bounced across the country and the exteriors of the new stadiums in Klaipeda and Kaunas are nearing completion as Lithuania gears up to play host to EuroBasket 2011.
Since Lithuania learned that they would be hosting EuroBasket back in January 2005, the entire country has been building towards arguably the biggest sporting event that the country has ever hosted.
The tournament, beginning on Aug. 31, will bring together the best 24 men’s basketball teams from across Europe who will not only be playing to become European champions, but also to claim a berth at next year’s Olympics in London. The top two teams at the tournament will earn automatic qualification, while the next four teams will receive a second shot via next year’s Olympic qualifying tournament, in which the top five placed teams at that tournament will also earn a place in London.
For a country that lives and breathes basketball, it now seems that little else is being talked about, or in fact happening in the country. The nightly news is full of stories relating to basketball and the majority of television advertisements also seem to be intricately linked to the event as Lithuanian players are seen doing everything from acting as old men to swimming.
In order for every dwelling, from small villages to cities, to be able to show their support, a basketball is being bounced around Lithuania by people who have volunteered online to run five to seven kilometers each, dribbling the basketball. Even the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, has gotten in on the act, taking her turn at dribbling the ball. It is expected that the ball will be given to the Lithuanian team prior to the commencement of the tournament as a token to show that the whole of Lithuania is supporting them.
Despite the hype and excitement, it is not to say that everything is completed. Brand new stadiums built especially for the event in Kaunas and Klaipeda still require a significant amount of work in order to be properly ready for the tournament. Talking to TBT, Lithuanian basketball journalist Jonas Miklovas admitted that, despite both stadiums having already opened their doors and hosted test events, they are still far from complete. “Kaunas needs to do A LOT for its arena’s environment, as it is far from finished. It is expected that workers will be working on that until EuroBasket comes to Kaunas on Sept. 14. Klaipeda has a more polished environment, but its arena services (cafes, bars) were not in place when the arena hosted its first events.” As the host city, Kaunas’ new stadium, Zalgiris Arena, will not be called upon for use until the latter stages of the tournament, whereas for Klaipeda – which will host their first game on Aug. 31 – the issue remains a little more pressing.
During the group play phase of the tournament, games will be played throughout Lithuania in the cities of Panevezys, Siauliai, Alytus and Klaipeda. Vilnius will then host the Last 16 before the eight remaining teams move to Kaunas to play in the quarterfinals onward. Lithuania and tournament favorites Spain will play their group A games in Panevezys alongside Great Britain, Turkey, Poland and a yet to be confirmed sixth team; Latvia will be based in Siauliai, taking on Germany, Serbia, France, Israel and Italy in Group B action; Bosnia and Herzegovina, F.Y.R of Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and a yet to be confirmed sixth team make up Group C, which will be based in Alytus, while Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Belgium and Slovenia will battle it out in Group D action in Klaipeda.