LJUBLJANA - Holders Spain and 2011 runners-up France set up a mouth-watering European basketball championship semi-final clash after enjoying contrasting wins in the Stozice Arena on Wednesday.
France, led by San Antonio Spurs playmaker Tony Parker, beat hosts Slovenia 72-62 in front of a capacity 12,000 crowd after Spain had crushed Serbia 90-60 thanks to guards Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez.
Croatia take on underdogs Ukraine (1545 GMT) and Lithuania lock horns with Italy (1900 GMT) on Thursday and the winners will face each other on Friday in the other semi-final after Spain meet France.
Parker, who helped the Spurs to three NBA titles and last season's final which they lost to Lebron James-led Miami Heat, won his personal battle against Slovenia playmaker Goran Dragic after he scored a game-high 27 points to silence a vociferous home crowd.
Phoenix Suns guard Dragic, who led the Slovenians with 18 points, had made the brighter start but the 31-year old Parker showed his class and pierced the home team's defence almost at will, netting with blistering lay-ups and long-range shots.
A 10-2 run early in the second half gave France a 36-26 lead and although the Slovenians fought hard to turn the tide, they had no answer to Parker or Nicholas Batum, who added 14 points.
In the day's opening quarter-final, holders Spain romped to a 21-5 lead in the first quarter against a young and injury-hit Serbian team to stay on course for their third successive European title.
Fernandez scored 22 points and Rodriguez chipped in with 19 for the rampant Spaniards, who produced their best performance of the 24-team tournament after playing in fits and starts through the two preliminary group stages, where they lost three games and flirted with an early exit.
A Ricky Rubio three-pointer gave the holders a staggering 69-29 lead midway through the third quarter and although Serbia restored some respectability to the scoreline late on, their biggest defeat as a single nation left coach Dusan Ivkovic fuming.
"My players were selfish and did not stick to the game plan, which is why Fernandez and Rodriguez were able to get into their stride seamlessly and control the match from start to finish," he told reporters.
"Our defence was also very poor and I can only apologise to Serbian fans who made the trip to come here and support us for what was an awful performance. I take the blame for the fact that we were ill-prepared for a clash against a much better Spanish team."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ed Osmond) ([email protected]) (Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Sonia Oxley)