Basketball World Cup Qualifier: Croatia Is Out After 79:81 (34:43) Loss to Finland

By 3 July 2022
Basketball World Cup Qualifier: Croatia Is Out After 79:81 (34:43) Loss to Finland
All Photos: Burak Canboy

Last chance blown despite 8 point lead with less than 2 minutes to play

July 3, 2022 - Excitement for Croatian basketball fans all over the world started already prior to jump ball in Rijeka. An hour before the game at Zamet Sports Center against Finland was on, it was not clear yet if the result would even hold any value for the host team. In order to even have a slight chance to reach the next round, Croatia had to cheer for Slovenia to win in Sweden. For the second time, Sweden was not lucky in a last-second decision game. Slovenian NBA star Luka Dončić drew a foul with 4 seconds to go and a one-point lead, scored both his free throws and Ludvig Hakanson’s desperate 3-point-attempt missed its target on the other side.


Not only did Sweden lose the game 81:84 (41:41) but were reminded how they became victim to Croatia in the only game the checkered team had won in this competition so far. On February 28th, Sweden could have just lost to Croatia in the last seconds of regular time and would have held a direct comparison advantage after winning the first game by 6 points 3 days earlier. Then they could have again lost the game closely with the last throw of overtime, but they tied the game to then lose the second overtime by seven points and gave Croatia the chance tonight to reach the next stage with a victory over Finland. The decision in tonight’s game came again with the last possession.

Finland has surely been the big surprise in this group and had only lost a single game against Sweden. The Northern European team is being led by 25-year-old NBA talent Lauri Markkanen who averages a double-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and despite his 213cm is also the team’s leader in assists with 4 per game. 


The guest team had the better start and was up 2:14 only 4 minutes into the game before Croatian coach Damir Mulaomerović brought outside shooter Toni Perković who immediately thanked him with 2 successful tries and opened up some space for Bojan Bogdanović who added another 6 points. Croatia was able to close the gap almost completely despite giving Finland a lot of second chances and went into the second quarter 17:21 behind. 

During the second quarter, the guests continued to control the game both below the baskets and from the outside and were able to increase their lead to 34-43 at half-time. NBA star Bojan Bogdanović still seemed to suffer from jet lag after already having shown little to no impact in the previous loss against Slovenia on Thursday.


Whatever Damir Mulaomerović said to his team during the break, it worked. The 2500 spectators saw a team fully focused on both ends of the floor. Croatian champion and finals MVP Roko Prkacin brought the energy to the team that was missing in the first half. With dunks, rebounds and a lot of heart, he inspired all his teammates to a last big effort which led to Croatia’s lead just before the 61:60 at the end of the quarter.


The energetic game continued and the intensive defense by both teams led to an unusual amount of offensive fouls for both teams. The veteran trio Zubac, Bogdanović and Hezonja managed to carry their team to an 8-point lead with only 2 minutes to play. The atmosphere was fantastic but unfortunately the game was not over yet. Finland was able to turn the game around because Zubac, Bogdanović and Gnjidić missed an unbelievable 7 of 8 free throws before the game and all hopes were gone.


While Finland and its top-scorer Markkanen (19 points, 7 rebounds) have qualified for round two and will now very likely be able to participate at the 2023 World Cup in Japan, Philippines and Indonesia, the Croatian team around Bogdanović (21 points) Zubac (21 points) and Hezonja (13 points) will need to watch the event at home on television.

Referees: YILMAZ, Yener (Turkey), HOROZOV, Martin (Bulgaria), CALATRAVA, Fernando (Spain)

Result by quarters: 17:21, 17:22, 27:17, 18:21