Israel's under-20 national basketball team won the European championship on Sunday evening in Chemnitz, Germany, beating the Croatian team 80-66 for the gold medal. The Israeli team, which is coached by Ariel Beit-Halahmi, led for the entire game.
The game was Beit-Halahmi's first crack ever at the European championship and the second year in a row in which the Israeli team trounced France in the semifinals, this year by a score of 83-57. Beit-Halahmi's name had been associated with the team's league downgrade nine years ago, now superseded by a historic under-20 championship for the first time in the country's history.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Beit-Halahmi following the victory, saying that the country is proud of the team and that he looked forward to welcoming the players to the Prime Minister's Office. He jested that beating Croatia and France sounded like the World Cup in soccer, where earlier this month France beat Croatia to finish first. For his part, Gil Beni express pride in being the captain of the team and "proud for the country that we have brought it a first gold."
At the end of the first quarter of Sunday's game, the Israelis were in the lead 20-16, despite the disadvantage that Israel faced against the taller Croatian team. The quarter included scoring by Michael Brisker and Beni, and four points by Gavriel Chachashvili. Yuval Zussman was the first to score for Israel in the second quarter followed by Deni Avdija. The team led by 45-34 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Croatians narrowed the Israelis' lead, but Brisker put a halt to Croatia's momentum with a key three-pointer but also took the last throw of the quarter, which he missed, ending the quarter 60-50. In the decisive final quarter, at one point the Israelis led by 21 points, but finished the game with an 80-66 lead.
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The team has a number of stars, including Zussman, who can be expected to be a standout in the Euroleague, and Avdija, who is 17 and is thought to have promise for the NBA.
With reporting by Noa Landau.