Basketball: England's finals hopes are fading

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The Independent Online

England lost ground to the Czech Republic and Slovenia in their bid to reach the 2003 European Championship finals when they were beaten 74-70 by Portugal in the Azores on Saturday, becoming the first team in Group E of the semi-final round to lose to the Portuguese.

England lost ground to the Czech Republic and Slovenia in their bid to reach the 2003 European Championship finals when they were beaten 74-70 by Portugal in the Azores on Saturday, becoming the first team in Group E of the semi-final round to lose to the Portuguese.

England now share third place with the Czechs and Slovenians behind the group leaders Italy and second-placed Russia, who seem certain to take the two automatic qualifying places. But the best third-placed team from four of the five groups will also go through.

The Portuguese successfully restricted England's practice time by moving the game to the Atlantic islands, giving coach Laszlo Nemeth's team another 800-mile flight from Lisbon, to add to the original flight from London to the Portuguese capital. Andy Betts and Tony Dorsey, who jointly led England's scorers in Wednesday's defeat against Russia, again led England's offence. Betts, now playing for AEK Athens, scored 18 and Dorsey, based with Cholet in France, scored 12.

Russia, who defeated England 80-51 on Wednesday, lost 86-66 in Italy on Saturday night. while Slovenia lost 71-70 away to the Czechs. The return fixtures are next season.

In the BBL Championship, London Towers consolidated their place at the top of the Southern Conference with a 115-103 win at Birmingham Bullets, who remain at the foot of the table. Towers' new Americans Ted Allen and Eric Mann played key roles as Towers pulled away in the third quarter, with Stuart Robbins adding 10 points in the period.

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