By Andy Chukwu
Outsiders, Spain beat Argentina 95-75 to win the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time since 2006 on Sunday.
Their victory in the final capped a stunning campaign for a squad that was not given a chance to reach the final game of the 32-team tournament that took place in China.
In the final match, the Spaniards scored first and never relinquished the lead, relying on swarming interior defence and superior rebounding to snuff out the offensive threat of 2004 Olympic champions, Argentina.
Point guard Ricky Rubio racked up 20 points and three assists and Marc Gasol and Willy Hernangomez swatted three shots each as Spain pulled down 47 rebounds, 20 more than Argentina.
For Gasol it was the crowning achievement of an incredible year that saw him win an NBA World Championship with the Toronto Raptors before leading his national team to glory.
His 33 points in the semi-final victory over Australia put them in position to fight for the gold medal, but it was his defence that put them on the top step of the podium.
From the opening tip, the 34-year-old dominated the driving lanes to the basket that Argentina had used to such great effect against France, forcing them into outside shots that would not fall.
He was equally effective banging under the basket at the other end and he hit nine of his 12 free throws to maintain the gap between the two teams.
He and Rubio were rewarded for their performances in Spain’s unbeaten run to the gold medal with a place in the tournament’s five-man All-Star team, which was announced after the final.
There was to be no fairytale ending for the seemingly evergreen Argentinian Luis Scola, whose superb show against France had helped to carry his side into the final.
The 39-year-old power forward, his jet-black hair now flecked with grey at the temples, was kept well-shackled throughout.
And it was late in the third quarter before he notched up his first point from the free throw line.
The 2019 win for Spain marks the second time they have won the tournament on Asian soil, having claimed the 2006 title by beating Greece in Saitama, Japan.
Earlier in the day, Nando De Colo netted 19 points as France shot 43 per cent from behind the arc to take their second consecutive World Cup bronze medal with a 67-59 win over Australia.