France caused the biggest shock of the basketball World Cup in China after beating holders the United States 89-79 to reach the semi-finals of the 32-nation tournament on Wednesday.
France will meet Argentina on Friday for a berth in Sunday’s final while 2006 champions Spain take on Australia, who overpowered Czech Republic 82-70 in the day’s other quarter-final.
The United States, favourites to win their third successive and sixth overall world title, dropped into the 5-8th place playoffs after they failed to reach the medal rounds for the first time since the 2002 tournament in Indianapolis.
The Americans were beaten in a last-eight clash by the former Yugoslavia in that tournament and they next face Serbia, who were billed as their most likely rival in a gold-medal clash in this year’s event.
With 17 of their top NBA players pulling out of the roster in the build-up to the tournament in China, the US lacked depth but their coach Gregg Popovich, the winner of five NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs, refused to make excuses.
“It is a disrespectful notion to even bring something like that up,” Popovich told a news conference.
“To say ‘hey you guys didn’t have this guy or that guy,’ that’s disrespectful to France or whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us.
“It doesn’t matter who is on the team. I couldn’t be more proud of these 12 guys who sacrificed their summer having never played together before.
“They put themselves in the arena and competed. They deserve credit for that just like France deserve credit for winning. It’s not about ‘the United States didn’t have their other guys.’ There is no such thing as ‘other guys.’”
Having ground out a barely deserved 93-92 overtime win over Turkey in the preliminary group stage, there was to be no escape for the US this time against an athletic French side who dominated them in every department.