| Action during the Argentina-US semi-final in Athens on Friday. The Americans were upset 81-89
Athens: United States failed to reach the men’s basketball final for the first time in 16 years and Italy shocked previously unbeaten Lithuania on Friday to set up an Olympic gold medal game that nobody expected.
Argentina beat the three-time defending champions 89-81 in their semi-final to complete a nightmare tournament for the former US “Dream Team” who have now suffered three defeats in Athens, their first Olympic reverses since 1988.
The win, though, leaves Argentina on the edge of winning the country’s first Olympic gold in any Olympic sport since 1952 although their football team could narrowly beat them to it as they are playing their final slightly earlier on Saturday.
“They (Argentina) did a great job, you can’t take anything away. We fought as hard as we could but we just couldn’t get it done for whatever reason,” said US guard Allen Iverson.
“We’re not playing for the gold, but we still have to fight hard and go out there and represent our country.”
Argentina’s top scorer Emanuel Ginobili, who netted 29, said: “I think there was only one real US Dream Team and that was in 1992 in Barcelona. That was a great team from the United States.”
Italy pulled off the second surprise of the night, going points behind to Lithuania before storming back to win 100-91 and now look to claim their first basketball gold to go along with the silver medal they won in Moscow in 1980.
The US left the court to a chorus of boos as they were denied an Olympic gold medal for the first time since the Barcelona Games when NBA players started competing.
The US had won three straight titles and captivated the world with their play from players such as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and David Robinson.
But this year’s edition of the team, put together just two weeks before the Games started, was in trouble early, losing preliminary round games to both Puerto Rico and Lithuania.
Once the darlings of the Olympic basketball tournament, even teams pummelled into submission would take their beatings with a smile, players asking for autographs and happily posing for pictures with the NBA stars they admired while growing up. But there were few smiles to pass around the entire tournament as hostile crowds greeted the team at every turn.
US men’s basketball crumbled at the Summer Olympics like an ancient Athens temple. Coming into the Olympics, the Americans had compiled a 109-2 record since basketball was introduced in Berlin in 1936.
“Basketball is getting better because of what the Dream Team did in ’92,” said US coach Larry Brown. “We have to realise that some of these other teams are extremely well coached and there’s some great players out there. “I think rather than knocking our guys, our league, I think we ought to give credit to the people we played against.
“We have to really think about the people we put on the team and think about the preparation that’s needed to give us the best opportunity when we have to play against great teams.”