SPORT

Australia Won The Basketball But Lithuania Had The Best Fans

Lithuania have beaten us twice for bronze at the Olympics previously.

18/08/2016 12:43 AM AEST | Updated 18/08/2016 3:08 AM AEST
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This is 'Sekla'. It means seed in Lithuanian.

Australia has comfortably beaten Lithuania 90-64 in the quarter finals of the men's basketball at the Rio Olympics. The Boomers did it pretty easily, which is a change from the old days when Lithuania used to beat us a lot at the Olympics.

Lithuania has twice beaten Australia's men in the bronze medal playoff in the Olympics, including at the Sydney 2000 Games. That one really hurt. But Lithuania is out now and we march on to play either Croatia or Serbia in the semis.

Patrick Mills and Matthew Dellavedova were again fantastic for Australia, running the show at the back. Big man Aron Baynes had his best game of the tournament. He played more minutes than Australia's other really big guy, Andrew Bogut, and contributed a handy 16 points to Bogut's 6.

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
Baynes was the bane of Lithuania's existence.

Damian Martin also did what Damian Martin does, which is to contribute the sort of soulful performance that makes the whole of Australia glad he's on the court.

"I was laughing because I was waving to the crowd when I came off the court, and I was like 'why am I waving? Everyone's looking at Patty and Delly'," he told The Huffington Post Australia in his hilariously self-deprecating way.

He shouldn't be so modest. Martin was a defensive powerhouse in in his 16 minutes of court time. Tellingly, he spoke again of "our style", by which he meant the unselfish one-for-all ethos which pervades this immensely likeable and talented Australian team.

The Boomers are now one win away from the gold medal match and a potential rematch with the USA, who struggled long and hard to beat Australia narrowly earlier in the Olympics.

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Bogut was totally in control.

"We believe. We believe that we can beat teams," Aussie star Andrew Bogut said after the match. "We had teams [in the past] where we said all that, but there was that doubt still there."

This time there's no such doubt. There's no arrogance either. Just a quiet confidence. But Bogut did sound a warning that Australia has twice been in the final four at the Olympics and come away with nothing. "No pressure, then," he joked.

With the quality of teams in the semi-finals, Australia looks a near certainty to win our first ever men's basketball Olympic medal. That'll be particularly welcome after our women's team, The Opals, crashed out in the quarters -- missing their first Olympic medal since 1992.

AFP/Getty Images
Patty Mills ran rings.. around the ring.

But as well as Australia played, the MVP award in the Carioca 3 Arena at Rio's Parque Olimpico has to go to the Lithuanian fans.

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The classic Hawaiian Brazilian Lithuanian floral necklace.

All of them. Even the ones with slightly creepy T-shirts featuring the faces of former Lithuanian basketball stars. Many have tats of those players too. Which again, is a little hmmmm, but admirably dedicated.

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Dude on the left has a Lohawk.

The leader of the fans is the 44-year-old diehard fan known as "Sekla", which means seed. He's pictured at the top of the story and said he last cut his beard 26 years ago.

Sekla follows his team around the world, and has been doing so for 13 years. His fandom has taken him as far afield as Sweden, Spain, China, Turkey, France and now Brazil.

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You know you've got passion when the Brazilian fans join you in celebration.

Basketball is the number one sport in Lithuania. The small Eastern European nation has won just thee medals in Rio (in rowing and weightlifting, with no golds), and there were some pretty dejected team members, journalists and fans after this loss. But Sekla was maintaining a brave face.

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"We play with soul," he said. "I am sure we will recover from this."

Sekla was the leader of an occasional chant which appeared to go "F**k you, referee!" but the Lithuanians smiled when they yelled it, and had lots of other nicer chants, so we'll chalk it down to humour, not bad sportsmanship.

Meanwhile Damian Martin was magnanimous in praise for Lithuania, who Australia played in a warm-up tournament before Rio, and who shared a chartered flight with our guys to get here.

"They're a great team, so it's a huge win for Australia," he said.

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