DONGGUAN, China – The last time Luis Scola made an appearance in the semifinals of the World Cup, the power forward was barely 26 years old and was still waiting for the opportunity to disembark in the NBA with his long mane.
He is now 39 years old. His one-decade career in the NBA is in the past. Hair has been trimmed, filled with gray hair.
And he is back among the four best in the world.
Scola signed 20 points, Facundo Campazzo contributed 18 points and 12 assists and Argentina surprised Serbia 97-85 in the quarterfinals of the world championship on Tuesday night.
Argentina (6-0) will play its semifinal on Friday in Beijing against the winner of the quarterfinal match on Wednesday in Dongguan between the United States (5-0) and France (4-1).
"This has enormous significance," said Scola, the last stronghold of the Golden Generation in the national team.
The Albicelestes are in the semifinals of a World Cup for the first time since 2006, precisely at the height of that phenomenal litter that, with Manu Ginobili, Andrés Nocioni and Scola at the head, conquered the Olympic gold at the 2004 Athens Games.
Serbia was singled out as one of the big favorites to the title, and arrived in China with the ambition to fight for gold after losing in the finals to the United States in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
But Argentina had other plans, and Scola was in charge of transmitting a strong message: this result was not the work of chance.
"It irritates me that there are people talking about a miracle, talking about surprise, people talking that nobody expected it," Scola said. “I'm going to tell you one thing, there were 22 individuals that were believing during the last two months that we had the ability to get to this. It's the only thing we needed, those 22. We have them and this far exceeds any miracle. ”
Patricio Garino added 15 for Argentina.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 21 points for Serbia (4-2), which also received 18 from Nemanja Bjelica and a contribution of 16 points and 10 rebounds from center Nikola Jokic, his benchmark that shines in the NBA. Vasilije Micic played 18 minutes for the Serbs after the death of his mother days ago.
"We work piecework all summer long," Bjelica said. "It's hard. But this is basketball. There are things with greater importance. ”
Argentina dominated practically from end to end, letting the advantage briefly escape in the first position of the fourth quarter when Marko Guduric scored a triple for Serbia. The Argentine response was devastating: a 19-6 attack in the next 6 minutes.
A triple Bogdanovic with 1:20 to play approached Serbia, 91-85. But Campazzo's basket in the next possession stretched the difference to eight, and Albiceleste fans in the stands began to celebrate victory insurance.
"Campazzo completely dominated the game," said Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic, referring to the Argentine owner, who dazzled with his showy passes and marksmanship. "He dominated the game in every way. This has been his victories."
Scola said it was a collective round effort.
"We played a very complete game," said Scola. "We are a very good team. We are doing a great tournament and we deserved to win. ”
With Olympic ticket to Tokyo
The Argentines secured their Olympic ticket, their fifth straight and eighth in history, being one of the two best in the American zone – the other was for the United States, which incidentally sent their scouts – Jeff Van Gundy, Lloyd Pierce and Ime Udoka among them – to witness live the Argentina-Serbia duel. American coach Gregg Popovich says he observes the other matches of the tournament on his days off but allows his assistants, headed by Van Gundy, to take charge of the analysis of the opponents.
The United States will face France in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, and if it is victorious, it will face Argentina in the semifinals.
Argentina, meanwhile, takes something extra for the pass to the semifinals – an additional day of rest. After playing matches with a day off, Argentina will have two full days to rest before measuring to the United States or France on Friday.