Published September 17, 2011
KAUNAS, Lithuania – Tony Parker will have to find a way past the towering presence of the Gasol brothers if France is to win the European Championship for the first time against defending gold medalist Spain.
Both teams have achieved their first objective by qualifying directly for the 2012 London Olympics.
While Spain is hoping to repeat as champion, France is looking for its first continental title.
"It's like the entire weight of the nation was lifted from my shoulders," Parker said of France qualifying for the Olympics. "But now we are also in the final and no France team has ever done that.
"It's a great feeling, my heart was beating strongly," he said after scoring 22 points in the 79-71 win Friday against Russia.
France won the silver medal in 1949 but the tournament was played under a different format and there was no final game.
The final on Sunday brings together two teams that have undoubtedly played the best basketball. Both are loaded with NBA players.
"It's going to be a different France team now," said Parker, who has averaged 21.7 points.
In addition, France will have to handle shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 35 points in the semifinal win against Macedonia.
"We are very pleased to have achieved the first objective, which was to be in the Olympics. But as I told my teammates, the final is a chance that we cannot let go. We have 40 minutes more and we must give everything," Navarro said.
France is also seeking to avenge a quarterfinal loss to Spain two years ago.
"We'll have to play better then we've played until now, that's clear," Parker said.
"I've always believed in myself and in the team of France. I am proud of being French. Many people doubted that we'd get this far, but we've already accomplished a lot," Parker said.