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25/06/2019
Long Read
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Power Rankings: The final podium and those Olympic dreams

MUNICH (Germany)  - The last of our three power rankings for the  FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 has landed as we prepare for the big tip-off in Latvia and Serbia.

We are not only giving you a glimpse into who we feel the momentum (or lack of it) is with, we have also mapped out the scenarios too - so this could be the finishing positions for real. Meanwhile you can see how they compared with our previous set of rankings and also our 'Experts Panel' who made their predictions recently.

RANK

NATION

MOVE

 

1

Belgium have so much momentum from the last edition and the Worlds. Yes, super individual players (like Emma Meesseman, Kim Mestdagh and Julie Allemand), but it's their team play and having fun that relieves the pressure. A glorious opportunity awaits. The big question is whether they can deliver immediately in the toughest Group. If they do, then they are surely a lock for the Top Four at least. They move the ball brilliantly, can score big and after a slow start in preparation without some of their biggest hitters, they look like they are ready to shift up the gears. 

2

France were a strong frontrunner, but three big absences from their core rotation hurts them. They should still run deep with the talent they have, but will it be a fourth silver in a row? That would be more impressive consistency and maybe the injuries would mean that being runners-up again would be a bigger achievement than in recent years. Much will depend on Sandrine Gruda being healthy and firing, Marine Johannes being on form and  also a strong  Final Round debut from Bria Hartley. Their preparation performances have been hit and miss, but one big positive is the inclusion of their exciting teenage talents.

Spain could still be the team to beat with amazing backcourt depth and the golden touch of Coach Mondelo. But, they must defy almost 30 years of tournament history and were almost beaten by Great Britain recently. No nation has defended their crown since 1991 and that underlines just how tough it is at Final Round.  Spain are without their 2017 MVP Alba Torrens and in the big moments, that could be vital. However, they have more top class guards than anyone else, so surely the usual podium spot is surely assured. However, an injury or foul trouble to Laura Nicholls or Astou Ndour and they could be vulnerable. 

 

Italy have a big chance ahead of them to post their highest finish in a long, long time. They will feel they have been handed a favorable draw - or at least in the sense that if they play to their potential (and that is the key), then they can make a deep surge. They have top drawer class with Giorgia Sottana and Cecilia Zandalasini, the form of Elisa Penna and Nicole Romeo is heartening and if the young debutantes like Olbis Futo Andre and Lorela Cubaj are not overawed, could they 'Do a Belgium/Greece from 2017' and cause a surprise by making the Semi-Finals? Quite possibly.

There is every chance that Serbia could erupt and run everyone off the court with their free-flowing 'small-ball' transition game. Nobody is shy of putting up a shot from almost anywhere on the court and if they shoot the ball well, they will be hard to live with. The preparation games have shown that very clearly. The truth is, this team could be absolutely anything - from podium-dwellers to a heartbreaking early exit.  But, in the past weeks, the momentum and belief has gathered pace. Jelena Brooks, Sonja Petrovic and Aleksandra Crvendakic in particular provide a top class trio, but the big question mark is whether the backcourt is strong enough to handle the best opposing guards on the Continent. 

 

Russia have generally had some amazing results during the preparation period and there is a theory that Masha Vadeeva AKA 'The Terminator' is going to destroy everything in her path - with no opposing defenders able to stop her. The drop in our rankings  still puts them on a path towards Tokyo, but what happens if Vadeeva misfires, gets into foul trouble or worse,  picks up an injury? Do they have a Plan B? Coach Lange is also arguably short of proven top quality playmakers who can impact at this level.  But, Russia do have a lot of strength on the wings, so should always be highly competitive. 

Things started so brightly for Sweden  a couple of months ago, with hopes high that they might be the team to 'Do a Belgium or Greece of 2017'. Indeed, we had them in the bronze spot on our first set of rankings. But, the wheels seemed to crash off last weekend with some horrendous performance and results - including an absolute battering at the hands of Spain when they didn't break 30 points. Can Sweden recover mentally? It 's the big question. They have a nice starting five with the Eldebrink twins, Farhiya Abdi, Amanda Zahui and Louice Halvarsson for example, but their collective offence seems to have deserted them. They can still break into the top six, but after last weekend, it might be a case of deja vu from 2013 in France, when they promised so much, but just fell short.

Even if they suffered some  big losses in preparation, Ukraine may feel that the force is with them, since they are in a Group where surely second place could be theirs. In that scenario, they can push on and potentially grab a spot in Belgrade. All eyes will inevitably be on Alina Iagupova who can win any game single-handedly - even at this level. Her firepower is astonishing, but Ukraine have also confirmed quality alongside her in Olesia Malashenko who spent time with BLMA last season, as well as Taisiia Udodenko who was on fire two years ago and led the way. Throw in a Liudmyla Naumenko coming off the best season of her club career at Cukurova and Ukraine will pose some serious questions for their rivals. Defense remains a worry and they are not blessed with depth at point guard, but Iagupova is so special, it's hard to write them off. And, they should have reached the QF's in 2017!

There's little doubt that if they avoid injuries and foul trouble, Slovenia could make history and reach the Top 8. They have a super rotation of  5-7 players and are particular stacked with top quality guards, giving them one of the deepest backcourt rotations around. Teja Oblak, Nika Baric, Annamaria Prezelj and Zala Friskovec are hugely exciting players. But, Slovenia look very, very fragile under the basket. Eva Lisec and Shante Evans are doing a great job, but one injury or foul trouble to either of those two and Slovenia may kiss good bye to their hopes of making it to the Quarter-Finals for the first time. We still think they will be fun to watch and they do have a good chance of making it. But will Lady Luck smile on them?

10

It's hard to see Turkey making the Quarter-Finals on the basis of some poor results and performances during their most recent preparation games - especially a big loss to Serbia. They have went for Kiah Stokes over Quanitra Hollingsworth in the naturalized slot - actually playing both of them last week in a friendly. They do  still have very winnable games in their Group and with a strong core of players in the likes of Isil Alben, Olcay Cakir Turgut, Bahar Caglar, Tllbe Senyurek and Stokes, they remain dangerous. But, the first ever Final Round in  recent memory without the legendary and now retired Birsel Vardarli Demirmen and Nevriye Yilmaz means it could be tricky. They have not missed a global tournament since their first in 2012, but Tokyo looks a long way away right now. 

11

When we issued our second rankings, Great Britain had not even won a preparation game. However, the mood levels are up after they banked a pair of victories against Canada and came within a basket of upsetting reigning champions Spain on the road. Interestingly, several players have all shown a capacity to rack up a double-digit score  with big contributions recently from Jo Leedham-Warner, Karlie Samuelson, TemiFagbenle and Chantelle Handy.  Probably not going to make the QF's for the first time but will fancy their chances in the Group against Latvia and Ukraine. 

12

 

 

We hear you!  How have Czech Republic not plummeted after it was revealed they would be without both Kia Vaughn and Alena Hanusova? Well, we have had to make a call that they will be able to narrowly see off Montenegro and scrape a precious win in what will surely be the crunch game in their group.  That would see them avoid a day three exit and avoid a bottom four finish. But, it could of course go wrong and without 3 of their best 4 players (Julia Reisingerova also injured) it will be a nervous game against Montenegro. They need Katerina Elhotova to shoot the  lights out  to make it to a fourth day. Then it is likely to be curtains and game over.

13

 

Latvia will be hoping fan support on home soil can be their saviour after being denied so many leading lights. The list of absences is long. They will take heart from some encouraging preparation displays, those super home fans, the almost inevitably reliable contributions to come from Elina Dikaioulaku and Kristine Vitola - plus the hot-hand held by Karline Pilabere, a player who was not even in the running a few weeks ago. Ultimately, their fate will be determined in the games against Great Britain and Ukraine. They are capable even short-handed of success, but the pressure and lack of  experience does look worrying on the eve of the competition. At least they have a strong coach in Martins Zibarts to call upon.

14

 

 

It looks like Belarus will be denied a returning legend and national treasure in Yelena Leuchanka who is set to miss what would have been an amazing return to Final Round. That is a massive blow as the veteran would have been the centerpiece of the team. An injury super rising star Kseniya Malashka also hurts them. At least they still have quality running through their spine in the likes of WNBA guard Alex Bentley, shooter Katsiaryna Syntsina, dynamic winger Tatsiana Likhtarovich and forward duo Maryia Papova and Anastasia Verameyenka. But a lack of depth could be the main issue and that might prove fatal in the most difficult Group in the competition. Although they could still sting one of the big  names in any one-off game of course. 

15

 

It's been a tough few weeks in terms of results for Hungary, with prep wins not exactly flowing in their direction. The results make for troubling reading, although they can hang their hat on a major injection of quality now that WNBA and EuroLeague Women playmaker Yvonne Turner is ready to play. They can also point to not being in the most challenging group, so each game is winnable if they all play hard. They also have some nice young gun debutantes in the likes of Agnes Studer, Reka Lelik and Virag Kiss. Meanwhile center Bernadett Hatar is looking strong  and Kris Raksanyi is as reliable as ever.

16

 

When Montenegro tip-off their campaign, we hope that they do not feel the full force of a step up in class, since during the preparation period, they have not played a single game against a top-level nation. Without Jelena Dubljevic their leader, it will be tough and there is little cause for optimism. However, they will make this  last-placed ranking look like a joke if they can just win the one game against the injury-hit Czech Republic. And, now that Glory Johnson has safely arrived, maybe it will be possible to take down their rivals. 

*The power rankings are entirely subjective and is in no way a true, accurate ranking systems. All comments are purely those of the author.

FIBA