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Only three nations can win a fairytale first title but Turkey are not one of them
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - The prospect of history being made with a first-time champion at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 are slim - very slim.
However, women's basketball remains beautifully unpredictable and if I remember rightly, when I said four years ago that Serbia could not be ruled out as potential victors, I was laughed at.
So, can anybody 'do a Serbia 2015' and take a maiden title? Probably not, but this competition has an amazing history of unpredictability. For example:
- only one nation has successfully defended their crown in the past 28 years.
- during 1993 and 2001, those five editions witnessed five consecutive first-time winners in the shape of Spain, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland and France.
The two consistent factors in an unpredictable environment are Spain who have been on the podium a jaw-dropping 8 times at the last 9 editions and France are bidding to step onto their sixth successive podium step.
I had forgotten that both Ukraine and Italy had won the competition previously and so when considering which three nations could win the crown for the first time, it narrowed my list of 'dark horses' considerably. You can forgive me for forgetting that in the case of the Italians it was 81 years ago.
Getting back on track with the key question, I feel that only Belgium, Belarus or Sweden could unexpectedly make history. The odds are long, but bear with me, because in women's basketball I have learned that you have to put logic aside sometimes and use your imagination.
They common thread with these three nations who have never won the silverware is that they all have talented starting fives, who I believe, can beat anybody on their day. Even if you think this column is ridiculous (which I understand as France and Spain will be favorites again), I would love to try and hear you argue that the starters for Belgium, Belarus and Sweden are not quality.
Allemand, Mestdagh, Delaere, Meesseman, Wauters (Vanloo, Carpreaux and Linskens alternatives)
After their bronze in Prague and showstopping entertainment in reaching the Semi-Finals of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup on debut, they have the momentum. And, momentum is massive in basketball. They have had the blow of not being able to bring the naturalized Celeste Trahan-Davis on board and also having to to play in the 'Group of Death'. But if they can make it out of a tough first phase, work hard and keep their feet on the ground, they will be contenders.
Bentley, Snytsina, Likhtarovich, Verameyenka, Leuchanka (Papova / Hasper alternatives)
There are big question marks over whether Leuchanka will play and whether she is healthy, but if she does, Belarus have one of the best froncourt rotations in the competition. Aside from France, find me a more solid one than Leuchanka, Verameyenka, Papova and Hasper! It gives them a base to build on and much will hinge on Bentley appearing and pulling the strings. They are also in the 'Group of Death' and like Belgium, that could bite them early. But if they can squeeze out of it - who knows? They will be awkward to play against with a full quote of players.
Eldebrink, Eldebrink, Abdi, Zahui, Halvarsson (Lundquist / Drammeh alternatives)
This may be a bigger stretch to believe than Belarus or particualrly Belgium and especially because they have lost two very hand role players in the veteran Anna Barthold and also Nathalie Fontaine. The addition of Regan Magarity could be a bonus and the biggest plus point is that they aren't in the 'Group of Death', so have a glorious opportunity to take a top 8 spot and then, who knows?
In summary, when you look at the above, I think it is clear that if (and it is a big if...) these nations steer clear of injuries, foul trouble, get a lot of luck and obviously all players are actually available, it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
So what about the other nations who have not yet won it, such as Slovenia and Turkey for example, who could justifiably be put alongside the above?
Well, Slovenia I admire greatly and they may make me eat my words, but they don't have much of a bench at all. At least in terms of a track record and experience.
More controversially, why not Turkey? I know the fans will not like me for it, and I will upset the delightful captain Isil Alben, but I just don't see them having enough offensive firepower. Who are the scorers you can rely on?
I would welcome both Turkey and Slovenia proving me wrong. It would be a great story for the women's game and both have a shot at making the first step towards Rio if they initially perform well in balanced Groups.
What is absolutely true, is that after France and Spain, this field is wide open - and I can't wait for the first ball of the tournament to be thrown up!
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