25 February 2019 - In the direct clash for Europe’s last World Cup ticket, Latvia won 80-74 against Montenegro on the last game day. However, the Latvians needed a win with 9 points or more to qualify; hence, Montenegrians will be the ones traveling to China.
Latvia was holding the lead for all forty minutes and was above the needed margin multiple times during the game. In fact, Dairis Bertans shot twice in the last 15 seconds to reach the nine-point margin but fell short while on the other side, Derek Needham banked the free throws to secure Montenegro’s World Cup ticket.
Needham nailed 22 points while Marko Todorović scored 13 in addition to Bojan Dubljević’s and Aleksa Popović’s 11 points each.
For Latvia, Janis Strelnieks had an excellent game notching game-high 25 points while missing only one shot from the field (8-9). Martin Meiers added 12 and Janis Timma 11 points.
"It is difficult to find the words to explain how I feel tonight, especially because I remember very well when we started a year ago without any idea, but really any idea at all of going to the World Cup. We competed to get to the Second Round and it was our goal. Tonight I am delighted because all of these guys who played, they all deserve this. Like Blagota (Sekulić) kept saying, we are really, really, extremely happy. And for our country, you saw the atmosphere; it was really amazing tonight. Congratulations to everybody," said Montenegrin coach Zvezdan Mitrović.
Montenegrin forward player Blagota Sekulić also noted that the game was very hard and that this is a historical win for sports in Montenegro.
"It was a challenging game. We knew that this team is different from the previous game with five players who never played in the Qualifiers before. So we knew it would be a tough game because those players are great shooters and it isn't easy to guard them. Somehow we made it come true, and we did something historically great for basketball and sport in Montenegro," said Sekulić.
Head coach of Latvia Arnis Vecvagars congratulated Montenegro and wished the players good luck in China.
"First of all, I would like to congratulate Montenegro for qualifying to the World Cup. Good luck to them there. Talking about today's game, the main reason we did not get the result we wanted is defensive rebounding. We allowed too many offensive rebounds. We allowed too many second-chance points, and in the second half, we had a lot of plays one on one where we did not execute defensively as necessary. Obviously in the last minute of the game, our team's offense was different because of the injury to our point guard Janis Strelnieks. As you all could see, the Montenegro team could not stop him," concluded Vecvagars.