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Coaches, players and federations react to draw for FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments
MIES (Switzerland) - The draw has been made for February's four FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs) with all 16 countries having a better idea of what they must overcome to reach the Tokyo Games.
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The groups for the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments 2020 are set! ✅ Which teams do you see qualifying through the #FIBAOQT to book their ticket to #Tokyo2020? 🎟 (The top three teams from each of these tournaments will qualify, @usabasketball & @japan_basketball will advance regardless of their results)
Belgium coach Philip Mestdagh, who already knew his team would host an OQT in Ostende, will lead the Cats in a "tough and balanced" event that has Canada, Japan and Sweden. The best two countries, other than Japan since the Far East country has a spot in the Olympics as the host nation, will advance to Tokyo.
"This is a tough and especially balanced group," Mestdagh said to nieuwsblad.be. “A 3 in 3 (3 wins) is possible, but a 0 in 3 is also possible. I would have liked to have avoided Japan and had America (USA) in the group. Of course America is the best team in the world, but Japan - we lost to them (77-75) at the World Cup in Tenerife after overtime.
Belgium lost to OQT opponents Japan at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in 2018
"They are small, shoot well and it's up to us to try to make a difference inside. Canada is a world leader. We won against them in Brussels this year in our preparation for the European Championship in Serbia. They did not have a complete team then, but will have in Belgium.
"Sweden did well at the past European Championship and is one of the emerging countries. With star player Amanda Zahui (WNBA, New York Liberty) and the twin sisters, Elin and Frida Eldebrink, they are the face of the Swedish team. However, we are ambitious and are decisively going for a place at the Olympic Games."
Belgium upset hosts Spain at World Cup and gave the United States their hardest game of the tournament in the Semi-Finals. In a rematch, Spain defeated Belgium in the Third-Place Game.
This summer at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket, Belgium lost a Quarter-Final to eventual runners-up France, 84-80, after overtime. They beat Hungary, 72-56, in a Classification Game to clinch a spot in an Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Belgium will be formidable. In October, Belgium's star center Emma Meesseman led the Washington Mystics to the WNBA title and was named as the Finals MVP. In that championship-winning Mystics side was Kim Mestdagh, another Belgium national team star.
"(TO HOST AN OQT) IT GIVES US EXTRA MOTIVATION AND STRENGTH, AND IT ELEVATES MY BASKETBALL PLAYERS AND ME TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF RESPONSIBILITY TO SHOW OURSELVES IN THE BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT AND SECURE PLACEMENT IN THE TOKYO OLYMPICS."
Serbia Basketball Federation president Predrag Danilovic is excited about his country serving as hosts of both an OQT Women and a men's OQT.
The women will go up against two-time defending AfroBasket champions Nigeria, World No. 1 USA and Mozambique. The USA, as Women's World Cup winners, already have a spot in the Olympics secured. The other two countries that finish highest in the Belgrade OQT will advance to Tokyo as well.
"We could have gotten tougher groups," Danilovic said. "Certainly everyone's biggest goal is to participate in the Olympics. It will not be easy, I hope for the qualification of the Olympic Games for both women and men."
Serbia will face Nigeria, USA and Mozambique in the Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade
Marina Maljkovic, the coach of Serbia, said of playing at home: "It gives us extra motivation and strength, and it elevates my basketball players and me to the highest level of responsibility to show ourselves in the best possible light and secure placement in the Tokyo Olympics.
"The importance of this competition is huge because everyone wants to be in Tokyo."
Spain, who bounced back from finishing third at the World Cup by winning the Women's EuroBasket in Belgrade this year, were on Wednesday drawn in the OQT that will be staged in Foshan, China. They will go up against the Chinese, Great Britain and Korea.
Former Spain point guard Elisa Aguilar, a two-time Olympian who works for the country's basketball federation, said of the draw: "To compete in mid-February coming from the domestic leagues is not going to make it easy to qualify. Logistically, it's going to be very complicated.
"But I think we are going with all guarantees. We have a great team and I am convinced we are going to qualify because the national team deserves it and we have a great team to do so. In our mind is only one thing, and that is to go to China and to come back with the qualification in our hands."
Spain will play against Great Britain, Korea and hosts China in the Foshan OQT
Spanish basketball is on a high after the Women's EuroBasket triumph and the men's successful campaign at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, where they went unbeaten.
"In our wildest dreams," Aguilar said, "we could not have imagined the summer that we had. This gives you the strength to continue."
Teams in that group must finish in the top three to qualify for the Olympics.
Great Britain were arguably the biggest surprise at the Women's EuroBasket, finishing fourth.
GB head coach Chema Buceta said: "It is fantastic that we are able to compete at this very high level after securing fourth place at EuroBasket this summer. Now, we have to be ambitious and do our best to qualify.
"All teams in our group are good and all games will be difficult, but we have shown we are able to beat good teams if we play aggressive defense, wise offense, support each other and are positive."