BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - France caused the biggest upset of the basketball World Cup in China after beating holders the United States 89-79 to reach the semi-finals of the 32-nation tournament on Wednesday (Sept 11).
The 2013 European champions and bronze medallists from the last World Cup will meet Argentina on Friday for a berth in Sunday's final, while 2006 champions Spain take on Australia in the other final-four clash.
France carved out a 51-41 lead early in the third quarter but the understrength Americans, who were last eliminated from the medal rounds in the 2002 tournament on home soil in Indianapolis, appeared to have turned the tide when they surged ahead 72-65.
The Americans were beaten in a last-eight clash by the former Yugoslavia in that tournament and they next face Serbia, who were billed as their most likely rival in a gold-medal clash in this year's event, in the fifth to eighth-place play-offs.
The French forced the final twist in the closing stages thanks to effervescent performances by Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert, who finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, and Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier, who netted 22 points.
With 17 of their top National Basketball Association players pulling out of the roster in the build-up to the tournament in China, the US lacked depth but their coach Gregg Popovich, the winner of five NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs, refused to make excuses.
"It is a disrespectful notion to even bring something like that up," he told a news conference.
"To say 'hey you guys didn't have this guy or that guy', that's disrespectful to France or whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us.
"It doesn't matter who is on the team. I couldn't be more proud of these 12 guys who sacrificed their summer having never played together before.
"They put themselves in the arena and competed. They deserve credit for that just like France deserve credit for winning. It's not about 'the United States didn't have their other guys'. There is no such thing as 'other guys'."
The Spurs' Patty Mills was in sparkling form once more for Australia, as they reached the semi-finals for the first time.
The Boomers, who had never gone beyond the quarter-finals in 11 previous appearances, defeated tournament debutants the Czech Republic 82-70.
This was undefeated Australia's sixth win in a row in China and in doing so they avoided becoming the latest surprise casualty at this unpredictable World Cup.
The 31-year-old guard Mills led the scoring with 24 points. He also had six assists and four rebounds.
Australia were heavy favourites in Shanghai against the Czechs, who bravely hung on until midway through the third quarter, when the Boomers cranked up the pressure.
Australia survived the World Cup "Group of Death" also including Canada, Senegal and Lithuania, before beating the Dominican Republic and then fellow semi-finalists France.
Veteran Australian Andrew Bogut was again loudly booed throughout by fans in Shanghai upset with a tweet he wrote in July about Chinese swimming star Sun Yang.
He goaded the crowd afterwards with a dance as he came off the court.