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Pau-less Spain still EuroBasket favourites

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Pau-less Spain still EuroBasket favourites
Spain's Rudy Fernandez vies with France's Florent Pietrus during a recent friendly. Photo: Franck Pennant/AFP
11:20 CEST+02:00
Two-time reigning champions Spain are still the favourites to win the 2013 European Basketball Championships despite the absence of some of their key NBA players.

Spain have been hit by no-shows with Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol, Oklahoma Thunder center Serge Ibaka and veteran guard Juan Carlos Navarro among those out of action.

Still, new coach Juan Orenga has plenty of talent at his disposal, including the likes of Pau's NBA brother Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon.

The 2012 Olympic silver medallists Spain enter the tournament in Slovenia hoping to capture their third consecutive crown - which would make them the first nation to do so since Yugoslavia three-peated in 1973, 1975 and 1977.

France meanwhile are led by NBA superstar Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs playmaker would love to lead Les Bleus to their first title.

France also are missing a number of players - especially their larger players for the low post. But the combination of Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and others is enough to make France Spain's leading challenger.

The field drops off after Spain and France, though a team like 2005 champions and 2009 bronze medallists Greece could contend for the crown.

Turkey on paper have loads of talent, but they have the stigma of never having reached the podium in a major international tournament on foreign soil - the 2001 European silver and 2010 world championship silver both coming in Istanbul.

The 2012 Olympic bronze medal winners Russia are going through a major generational change as most of their main veteran stars have stepped away from the national team.

In addition, Russia was hit by a rash of injuries in the build-up, leaving them little more than a major outsider's chance.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia shocked many observers by reaching the 2011 EuroBasket bronze medal game - where they lost to Russia.

But nearly the entire veteran team is back and could surprise teams once again - though they will not be underestimated this time around.

Hosts Slovenia, Lithuania and Serbia could also contend for a podium finish.

The 24-team tournament, broken down into four six-team first round groups, is a gruelling endeavour with the winners playing 11 games in 19 days.

The top three from the first round groups advance and form two six-team groups with the top four of each group then starting the knock-out stage with the quarter-finals.

The trophy will be hoisted on September 22 at the Arena Stozice in Ljubljana.

The tournament is not only for continental supremacy but also serves as a qualifier for next summer's 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The Worlds hosts Spain are already qualified and will be joined by six more European teams. If Spain are among the top six teams, then the seventh-placed nation will also grab a spot at the 24-team World Cup.

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