World Title Would Establish Spain’s Dominance of 2010 Sports
Madrid. Spain’s reign as king of the sports world this year would be irrefutable if the country retained its title at the upcoming basketball world championship.
The country’s national football team finally won the World Cup last month, shortly after tennis star Rafael Nadal completed his second French Open-Wimbledon double in three years and Alberto Contador won his third Tour de France title in four years.
Now, the pressure is on the basketball team, which will have to play without star center Pau Gasol, who has decided to take a break from competition. The tournament starts on Saturday in Turkey, and Spain is slated as the team to beat.
“They’re a great team, whoever plays,” Gasol said. “They’re preparing very well and I hope they can emulate that in the tournament. It’ll be tough, but they look prepared to keep winning more titles.”
The Los Angeles Lakers center’s absence coupled with strong teams from the United States, Argentina and Greece will not make the task easy for the European champions.
“Spain’s got a great team. They’re as good as anybody,” United States coach Mike Krzyzewski said last week. “But any team with Pau is better.”
The Spanish are trying to become only the third country to win back-to-back world basketball titles. Yugoslavia was the last team to do it, in 1998-2002, while Brazil managed it in 1959-63.
But maybe even bigger is what Spain has done all over the world this year.
The country’s first World Cup victory in South Africa made it only the third nation to be world and European champions simultaneously, while No. 1-ranked Nadal has taken his major total to eight since. Nadal, who won the Olympic singles gold in Beijing two years ago, also helped Spain to Davis Cup victories in 2004, ‘08 and ‘09.
Nadal now has a chance to become only the seventh player to record a career Grand Slam, and if he reaches the US Open final on Sept. 12 it could set up another super Sunday in Spain if the basketball team also delivers.
Contador’s three Tour de France titles have made it five straight Spanish winners of cycling’s biggest prize, and Fernando Alonso put Spain in the Formula One spotlight with back-to-back world championships in 2005-06 and is in the thick of this season’s race.
In Turkey, things will be tough without Gasol, but the team has already shown it can survive without him — the big man missed the 70-47 final victory over Greece in Japan four years ago because of injury, when brother Marc filled in.
The bulk of that team will return this time, including Jorge Garbajosa, Felipe Reyes and Rudy Fernandez, while newcomers Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llull and Fran Vazquez have provided further depth to the European champions.
But Spain will also be without another NBA player, Jose Manuel Calderon, because the Toronto Raptors point guard tore a muscle in his left leg during an 86-85 exhibition loss to the United States on Sunday.
Spain had won all eight of its warm-up matches — including games against Argentina, Brazil and Lithuania — before that.
With Calderon out, Rubio will run the show for Spain. The 19-year-old point guard has been impressive since helping Spain win the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.