France shock Spain as U.S. crush Croatia

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Holders Spain slipped to a shock 72-66 defeat by France in their World Championship opener on Saturday but there were no such problems for the United States, who eased to a 106-78 win over Croatia.

Serbia were also among the opening day's big winners after demolishing Angola 94-44 while 2006 finalists Greece had to work hard for an 89-81 victory against China.

The preliminary round, featuring 24 teams divided into four groups of six, promises more enthralling battles as some unheralded nations proved to be tough nuts to crack.

Lebanon produced a stunning 81-71 win over Canada and fellow Asians Jordan were a whisker away from upsetting Australia, losing 76-75 in a dramatic finish.

"I didn't expect us to win it so easily but then again we don't expect any easy games here," U.S. point guard Chauncy Billups told reporters.

"We are trying to be aggressive and respect every opponent because it's going to get harder with each game."

Eric Gordon led the United States with 16 points, Kevin Durant added 14 and four other players finished in double-scoring digits for the winners.

Spain are without inspirational Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol and his absence was deeply felt against a gritty and more athletic French team.

The Spaniards seemed to be cruising after taking an 18-9 lead in a physical, low-scoring contest but France, ranked 15th in the world, held on to enter the fourth quarter with only a one-point deficit which they wiped out in a furious finish.

There was no way back for the Spaniards after a technical foul by Rudy Fernandez handed France a 65-54 lead in the closing stages, their forward Mickael Gelaballe capping a brilliant individual performance with 16 points and six rebounds.

Playmaker Nikos Zizis and center Ioannis Bourusis scored 21 points each to give Greece the win against a plucky Chinese team, led by New Jersey Nets forward Jianlian Yi who had a game-high 26 points and 14 rebounds.

New Zealand shooting guard Kirk Penney was the day's outstanding performer with 37 points against Lithuania, but his one-man show could not prevent a 92-79 defeat by the 2003 European champions.