Brazil vs. Argentina is one of the biggest rivalries in international sports. Soccer is what started the animosity between the two regional powers but now, no matter the sport, every matchup has extra meaning for the fans.
The downside is that national pride can turn to real hostility if left unchecked. The upside is that when that competitiveness is challenged the right way by the players, amazing contests are usually the result.
That's exactly what happened on Saturday, as the host nation and its neighbor produced the best game of the Olympics, a double-overtime instant classic that Argentina won 111-107 thanks to great performances from Andres Nocioni and Facundo Campazzo.
The game had high stakes. A win guaranteed Argentina a place in the knockout stage while Brazil was looking for control of its own destiny, which would only come from beating Argentina and Nigeria. These Olympics are also the last tournament for the two great generations that the countries produced simultaneously. Argentina's reached higher heights, but Brazil had won the last matchup and seems ready to remain at a high level going forward. This game could have been their time to prove that they are now the biggest South American power.
The Golden Generation had other plans. Despite quiet games from Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, Argentina found ways to first get ahead and then come back once Brazil adjusted. Andres Nocioni hit eight three-pointers on his way to a 37-point, 11-rebound night while point guard Facundo Campazzo pitched in 33 and 11 assists. Nene dominated inside for Brazil, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but he didn't get the help he needed to carry his team to what would have been a historic victory.
The game was a thriller. Argentina started strong but couldn't sustain its level and trailed at the half by eight points. Brazil remained in control and was up eight with under three minutes to go. They seemed on their way to the win. Campazzo cut into the deficit but a couple of free throws from the Lakers' Marcelo Huertas put the host nation up three with 21 seconds to go. Then in its last attack, Argentina found Nocioni in the corner and he tied the game on a shot that seemed to bounce off every part of the rim before falling.
Nene did damage early in the first overtime but couldn't give Brazil the separation that it needed. Once again Campazzo shined and Argentina recovered. Manu Ginobili couldn't win it on the last shot, so they went to a second overtime. Argentina started the extra period better and went up by as many as eight but Brazil fought back, led by Leandro Barbosa. Down two with three seconds left, they fouled Carlos Delfino who missed both free throws but then, out of nowhere, Manu Ginobili came up with the offensive rebound and won it from the line after being fouled.
Brazil now needs its bitter rival to beat a surging Spain to have a shot at qualifying. A win against the European power and a loss by Lithuania would give Argentina the first place in the group, so there won't be room for suspicion. Even if Brazil advances, however, they would face Team USA in the knockout stage, which means there won't be a chance for a rematch between these two teams.
That's fine, though. If this is the last matchup between arguably the best generations of basketball players Brazil and Argentina have ever produced, it was a proper sendoff for both groups.
The U.S. women's national team will play Japan in the quarterfinals
There's only one matchup set in the women's division. Team USA will face Japan, which despite beating France in their last game of the group stage finished fourth. No team seems ready to give the U.S. some trouble but Japan should be an easier opponent than most. They didn't make the 2012 Olympics, which means they lack experience, and are the 16th best team in the world, according to the FIBA ranking. As long as Ramu Tokashiki is kept under control, it should be an easy win.
In other Group A news, Australia finished first and will avoid the U.S. until a potential gold medal matchup. The other two teams which have advanced are France, who will face whichever team finishes third in Team USA's group, and Turkey, who will go against whoever ends up in the second spot. The final positions in Group B are still up in the air, as four teams will fight on Sunday for three spots in the knockout stage.
Spain finally played like Spain
For the first three games of the Olympics, Spain didn't look like the superpower that it worked so hard to become. They lost close games to lesser opponents and barely beat a Nigerian team missing Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli. The squad that was considered the biggest threat to American domination was looking old, permeable on defense, and lacking depth following the absences or Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
Then the game against Lithuania happened.
Pau Gasol dominated inside, Rudy Fernandez and Nikola Mirotic provided some much-needed complementary scoring, and Ricky Rubio hit the open shots that had rimmed out earlier in the tournament. The result was a 50-point beatdown that shows that the sleeping giant is now wide awake.
The win keeps in place Spain's chances of both advancing to the knockout stage and avoiding Team USA in the quarterfinals. They could be eliminated if they lose to Argentina, but that seems unlikely, as Argentina is already qualified and its veterans should be tired after playing two overtimes against Brazil on Saturday.
The second best team in the world is still alive, which adds more intrigue to the tournament.
Australia 74, Belarus 66
Turkey 79, Brazil 76
Japan 79, France 71
Argentina 111, Brazil 107
Spain 109, Lithuania 59
Nigeria 90, Croatia 76