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12/09/2010

ISTANBUL (2010 FIBA World Championship) - When Turkey was awarded the 2010 FIBA World Championship several years ago, every fan from Istanbul to Ankara to Kayseri to Izmir and everywhere else in this beautiful country hoped for one thing and one thing only.

They wanted a Final between Turkey and the United States.

Well, they’ve got what they wanted.

After the United States' 89-74 win over Lithuania on Saturday night, and Turkey's heart-stopping 83-82 victory over Serbia, the World Championship has a title game to savor.

It will be a battle of unbeatens and it promises to be exciting.

Turkey coach Bogdan Tanjevic, despite coaching the home team, says the United States are favorites.

"American basketball is first in the world," he said.

"(But) They have a handicap because they have to prepare in 21 days."

Turkey's performance against Serbia would not have frightened the USA.

If anything, their appearance in the Final is more down to good fortune than good play.

Tanjevic says it was a "miracle" that they won.

On their game-winning out-of-bounds play with four seconds remaining and Serbia leading 82-81, Hedo Turkoglu was supposed to catch the ball and work his magic but instead, he fumbled it away.

By the grace of the Turkish basketball gods, the ball fell into the hands of Turkey’s Kerem Tunceri who dribbled around Marko Keselj and scored with just 0.5 seconds remaining.

"It was nothing except luck," Tanjevic said .

"Our thoughts were simply on getting the basket.

"We were lucky tonight. They played better than us.

"It was a miracle drive."

Turkey also needed a Semih Erden block of Serbia forward Novica Velickovic's potential game-winner at the death to seal victory.

The Turks weren't at their best and the biggest reason was because of Serbia.

The youngest team in the competition, with an average age of 23.6, showed poise, skill, determination and time after time, the ability to make big plays on both ends of the court.

The team made a few mistakes late in the game, like failing to stop Turkey on the play when Tunceri made the go-ahead basket.

Tanjevic needs better execution against the Americans.

"I believe we will play better (against Team USA) than today," Tanjevic said.

"If we lose the game, we are small champions of the world.

"We will play with less pressure tomorrow, hoping to find a better shooting percentage."

At the time USA coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke to the media on Saturday, he didn't know which team he'd be facing on Sunday.

What he did have to say about Turkey was this.

"All I know is that playing Turkey – if we played them – they are huge and they are on their home court," Krzyzewski said.

If Turkey want to have a chance to win, it stands to reason they must limit Kevin Durant's contributions.

The American superstar continued his scoring rampage at the World Championship by pouring in 38 points against Lithuania.

Durant knows it's going to be a rowdy atmosphere inside the Sinan Erdem Dome.

"It’s going to be a tough environment," he said, "but we’ve been playing in those types of environments our whole careers.

"Just about everybody here has been in the (NBA) play-offs and its going to be just like that."

Durant's play has been so good, so exquisite, so excellent, that it's easy to forget the other important aspect that allows this young and hungry Team USA win.

Yes, Durant scored against Lithuania but it was something else that really brought home the victory.

"Defense is what really won this game," USA's Eric Gordon said.

"We really played good defense and converted on the other end.

"That was a game where the flow of the offense wasn’t running that well but we really played good defense."

One of the veterans in the USA side, Lamar Odom, says he and his teammates must turn it up a notch if they are going to meet their aim.

"We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight," he said.

"That’s going to have to be the focus … just striving for perfection … trying to be perfect."

The bronze-medal game will also be hotly contested, an all-European affair.

Lithuania, who needed a wild card just to play at the World Championship, will take on a Serbia team that believes it should be playing for gold and not third place.

Serbia coach Dusan Ivkovic has to be applauded for turning his youngsters into a force.

He is going to have to forget the disappointment of Saturday night.

"We have to unite and prepare a small final for third place," he said.

Lithuania, too, need to put the disappointment of the 15-point setback to the Americans behind them and try to leave Istanbul with a medal.

In Sunday's first game will be a battle for fifth place between Spain and Argentina.

To see the Finals match-up between Team USA and Turkey, plus highlights and postgame reaction, go to FIBATV.com.

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