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In Pictures 19 Sep 11

Macedonian Basketball Team Receive Heroes Welcome

Macedonians are overwhelmed with joy after their national basketball team came out fourth at the EuroBasket in Lithuania against the odds.

Ognen Teofilovski, Robert Atanasovski, Sinisa Jakov Marusic, FoNet

Macedonia is throwing a big party and parade through city streets to celebrate what has been the biggest sporting success in the history of the country, after the national basketball team achieved the fourth place at the EuroBasket Championships in Lithuania.

On Sunday, the team lost 68: 72 to Russia in a match that was uncertain right until the end. But the defeat did not undermine the grandeur of the team’s achievement.

Thousands of Macedonians crammed into Skopje’s Airport to welcome the team home and more took to the streets to cheer them along as they mounted an open-topped double decker bus that traveled through the city to Macedonia Square, the city’s main pedestrian zone.

Thousands await the basketball team as they will cross through the Triumphal arch to the main square.

Until now, the country had never qualified for the Olympics and had played only twice previously in the EuroBasket Championship.

While victories against Croatia, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina were events to savour in a country that takes few prizes in sport, victory against Macedonia’s neighbour, Greece, was seen as the icing on the cake.

Macedonia lost against Russia by only one shot (61:63) in the last game of the second round, interrupting what had until then been a series of six wins. In the semi-finals the defender of the crown, Spain was stronger than Macedonia.

EuroBasket 2011 official site proclaimed the win of Macedonia against the home country Lithuania in the quarter finals on Wednesday as the biggest upset by an underdog team in the history of the Euro Championships that is held since 1935.

Macedonia’s government has been vocal in its support for the team. The government paid to send hundreds of fans to Lithuania for the games with Lithuania and Spain. President Gorgje Ivanov on Monday issued a decree awarding the players and team support staff with a medal.

Several days earlier the government rewarded the players with €3,000 each for their results so far and pledged additional €5,000 if they succeed in positioning themselves among the top six teams on the Championship which they did.

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