Fiba World Cup: Baltic ‘brothers’ Latvia, Lithuania expect fierce battle | Inquirer Sports

Fiba World Cup: Baltic ‘brothers’ Latvia, Lithuania expect fierce battle

/ 05:20 AM September 09, 2023

Jonas Valanciunas Lithuania Fiba World Cup

Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas. -MARLO CUETO/

Lithuania center Jonas Valanciunas could only laugh when a Latvian reporter asked about the looming clash of their respective countries on Saturday, a contest between friendly neighbors battling it out for the best finish of any non-semifinalist in the Fiba World Cup.

“Is there any player you hate the most on this planet and why is he Latvian?” the reporter asked, prompting the New Orleans Pelicans big man to flash a wide grin.


“That’s the joke? I don’t know what to say,” Valanciunas responded.


The exchange showed the ease of relations and the mutual respect and admiration between the two former Soviet nations in the Baltic region.

In fact, Lithuanians were on hand to join the Latvian supporters when the debutants almost pulled out an upset win over Germany in the quarterfinals. Valanciunas also bared that the same was reciprocated during the course of the competition.

“I saw a group of Latvian fans on the bus cheering ‘Lietuva,’” said Valanciunas. “That was amazing. We support our region, our Baltic countries, our land.”

Another country in the Baltic—the Luka Doncic-led Slovenia—made its way to the quarters, but will now play for seventh place against Italy after falling to Lithuania in the first classification game for fifth to eighth.

But even if the relations are deep, both Lithuania and Latvia will have to put that aside on Saturday as their match will determine fifth in the competition.

Exceeded expectations

Davis Bertans Latvia Fiba World Cup

Latvia’s Davis Bertans. -MARLO CUETO/

Regardless of the outcome, Latvia has already exceeded expectations not just at home but in the whole basketball world after making the World Cup for the first time through the prequalifiers.


“It’s big,” said Latvia’s Davis Bertans. “Coming out here, nobody expected us to be in this position. Nobody expected us to be in the top eight. I think somebody didn’t expect us to play in the second round, in the top 16.

“But we do not care what people think about us. We keep on fighting and we give everything we got,” said Bertans.

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For Lithuania, it’s a consolation finish it will want to bring home after hopes of a deep run ended with a quarters loss to Serbia, despite going unbeaten in the first two rounds.

TAGS: Fiba World Cup, Jonas Valanciunas, Latvia, Lithuania

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