The German basketball players got off to the best start in their history at the European Championships and are eliciting ever greater enthusiasm at their home tournament. The team around the strong young NBA star Franz Wagner defeated co-favorite Lithuania in a dramatic game after two extra hours on Sunday with 109:107 (96:96, 89:89, 46:41) and can thus early for the finals in Berlin ( from September 10th). Only 24 hours after the impressive comeback victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina, captain Dennis Schröder, Wagner and Co. defied the Lithuanians on Sunday in front of 18,000 spectators – including soccer star Mats Hummels – in Cologne, who after three defeats suffered the early and unexpected threatened.
For Germany, Wagner (32 points), who was particularly outstanding in the first half, was the best thrower. Jonas Valanciunas (34 points) convinced in Lithuania. There had never been three victories for Germany at the start of a major tournament, even in the successful era with ex-superstar Dirk Nowitzki. National coach Gordon Herbert had to compensate for a lot of prominent failures before the start, but now seems to have created a collective for which even the first German medal in 17 years is feasible.
A heated and thrilling game developed against the previously winless Lithuanians, who were again supported by thousands of green-clad fans. Center Daniel Theis, who only recovered from a knee injury this week, contributed the first five points, Wagner was the most conspicuous player in the German jersey in the early minutes: he moved aggressively to the basket and also showed his ability on the defensive with a steal and a spectacular block whole repertoire.
It was impressive how the Germans held their ground in the zone against the two giants Valanciunas (2.13 meters) and Domantas Sabonis (2.11 meters). Wagner, who had only made his debut in the national jersey a few weeks ago, was up front everywhere: the 21-year-old from the Orlando Magic scored from the middle distance, attacked the ring and then took over from the line of three.
“The offensive is running, Franz is running. It was a bit bitter at the end. Franz has such a run and we don’t manage to make more profit from it,” said center Johannes Voigtmann at half-time at Magentasport. It almost took revenge as Lithuania never shook off and equalized just before the end. Even in the first overtime there was no winner in the dramatic game, only in the second additional time did Germany secure victory and let the German fans freak out.
The basketball enthusiasm around the multifunctional hall in Cologne is enormous. Well over 100,000 spectators were already in the arena on the first three match days. In addition to the German fans in Schröder or Nowitzki jerseys, the Lithuanians were particularly represented in large numbers and even disputed the home advantage of the hosts on Sunday. “It’s awesome. It really makes me want to play here. The fans are unbelievable,” said Johannes Thiemann about the backdrop, which is rather unusual in Germany.
Tournament ambassador Nowitzki is also impressed by the festival-like event on the Rhine. “Almost 19,000 fans in the hall, it’s tingling a bit,” said the 44-year-old superstar on Saturday evening in the ZDF “Sportstudio”, where he spoke in detail about himself and the current EM hype. So far, this has primarily been felt in Cologne and not nationwide, because the games of Schröder and Co. can only be seen in the live stream and not on television.