When you talk Spain and France, two things ring true. Until recently, the two nations have rarely found themselves on the same side of anything. They've been political rivals since the first crusade. Whether it was during the Napoleonic Wars or World War II, Spain and France have never been able to rely on each other to be more than enemies, rivals, etc. The same can be said in soccer, where the countries represent two of the handful of European powers you can always expect to be across the field from each other during the World Cup and UEFA.
Wednesday will bring us chapter two of a budding rivalry between the French and Spanish basketball teams. France and Spain had never been a very big basketball rivalry. Even in the last decade when there had been an influx of Spanish and French basketball talent flooding the NBA, Spain and France always seemed to miss each other in Eurobasket, the FIBA World Championships and the Olympics. In 2009 Spain knocked out France in the quarter finals of Eurobasket and the two teams finally collided in the Finals. Now the two meet in the quarter finals of the Olympics, with the loser going home much earlier than they hoped.
For France, it's a chance at payback for the 2011 Eurobasket Finals and to supplant Spain as Europe's basketball power. For Spain, continuing to dominate European basketball while they look to get one more shot at Team USA in the gold medal game. Individually it's Tony Parker's chance to exercise quite a few demons from NBA playoffs' past. Parker can send home rivals from the Los Angeles Lakers (Pau Gasol), Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Serge Ibaka) with one game for the ages. It's a little earlier than either team would've rather seen each other, but rest assure, the stakes for France and Spain are incredibly high. Here's a quick look at the match ups for Wednesday's knock-out round opener.
Point Guard: Tony Parker, Nando De Colo (France) get the edge over Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon and Sergio Rodriguez. If Ricky Rubio were around this category might go to Spain. If Juan Carlos Navarro were healthy, this category might become a push due to the depth and versatility of the Spanish backcourt. However, Navarro is hurting and Parker is rounding into shape. Parker should be able to take advantage of the matador defense (pun intended) of the Spanish guards. De Colo's size should also give all three guards problems when he spells Parker or plays alongside him.
Wings: Mickael Gelabale and Nicolas Batum vs. Rudy Fernandez and Victor Claver also goes to France, but by the narrowest of margins. When Gelabale and Batum are hitting shots, France is incredibly tough to stop. The problem is France will keep shooting those 3-pointers even if they're not making it. Fernandez and Claver are a little more versatile, but have less of a ceiling as far as contribution goes.
Bigs: I really like the French bigs' versatility, but there isn't a trio of bigs in the Olympics the Gasol Brothers and Ibaka wouldn't get the edge over. Their length alone is going to give France fits. Boris Diaw's savvy play, Ronny Turiaf's toughness and Kevin Seraphin's athleticism are great, but the Spanish trio have all of that and they're all 6'11" or taller.
In theory, this should be a close game. As important as Spain's bigs are to any game, Wednesday's matchup is going to be all about which guard units can get into the lane and how well they can keep their opponents out of the lane. Parker and De Colo should be able to get around their Spanish counterparts. It's just a question of whether they can find open men once they're in the lane. France and Spain tip off at 10:15 central time.