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22 November, 2021
28 February, 2023
23 Tornike Shengelia (GEO)
24/11/2021
News
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The race for the World Cup is on: Is your team a contender or just an underdog?

MIES (Switzerland) - The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers are starting this week, with 32 teams fighting for 12 spots at the summit. Looking at the field, who are the favorites, contenders, wildcards, outsiders and underdogs?

We assembled a panel of experts to sort all the participants out, based on their reputation, past experiences, player prospects, possible matchups until the end of the European Qualifiers, and a general feeling if they could be there in 2023 or not.

 

We looked at both the optimistic and the pessimistic side of their quest towards Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.

Favorites

Spain ESP

Glass half full: There is so much reason for optimism, because (1) Spain have a strong core of international players in their prime, (2) Spain dominate youth competitions and will have some of those guys growing up through the system for 2023, (3) they have Sergio Scariolo, and (4) they are the defending champions.


Glass half empty: Spain will have to travel to Georgia, North Macedonia and Ukraine in the First Round, those are tough travels and if they become complacent at any point, it's not going to be 6-0, and probably not even 5-1. As all the results carry over to the next round, getting too comfortable could be costly.

France FRA

Glass half full: Already in the first window, France will have a couple of players born in 2001. They also have prospects like Juhann Begarin (2002) and Victor Wembanyama (2004) knocking on the door. France are so deep, it already seems like the 12 selected for 2023 will be the strongest full roster they ever put together.

Glass half empty: Sure, they look good on paper, but going from a prospect to a real ballplayer and a game-winner on the highest of levels, that's a long path. Are we sure that path will be complete before 2023?

Greece GRE

Glass half full: Nobody does the Qualifiers as smoothly as Greece. Sure, they can end up in an overtime game here and there, but they secured FIBA EuroBasket 2022 berth with two games in hand, and they cruised to an impressive 11-1 record during the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers.

Glass half empty: While reaching the summit shouldn't be a problem, how much could this team do in 2023? Even with Giannis Antetokounmpo, they struggled in China two years ago.

Italy ITA

Glass half full: Club basketball is as good as ever, the national team managed to win the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia, then played a solid tournament in Tokyo, they are hosting the FIBA EuroBasket 2022, it just feels like there are no bad news around this sport in the country.

Glass half empty: Italy did not qualify for three of the last four World Cups.

Lithuania LTU

Glass half full: Since reaching the World Cup for the first time in 1998, Lithuania missed the event only once, back in 2002. They destroyed the competition during the last World Cup Qualifiers, storming to an 11-1 record, and they were one goaltending call away from the medal hunt in China. Is it really a World Cup without Lithuania? These guys are always a factor.

Glass half empty: FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. One Mantas Kalnietis block away from missing the cut for the continental summit. Let's not go through this again, okay Lithuania? Okay? Okay.

Slovenia SLO

Glass half full: FIBA EuroBasket 2017 winners, Tokyo 2020 Semi-Finalists, smooth sailing through FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, plus the additional motivation and the lesson learned last time around, when they missed the World Cup in China.


Glass half empty: They went 3-9 before the 2019 event. That's not one shot away, or one win away. That's a lot of ground to cover.

Serbia SRB

Glass half full: Svetislav Pesic is back as the Selektor, exactly the kind of personality this team needs to fuel them with optimism after the disaster at the FIBA OQT over the summer. Also, they are in a group where their three rivals (Belgium, Latvia, Slovakia) have a combined 0 appearances in FIBA Basketball World Cup history.


Glass half empty: Qualifiers aren't really Serbia's thing. They lost to Israel and Estonia en route to China, while having to defeat Austria on a last-second three-pointer. They lost to Georgia and Switzerland in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. They lost to Italy in the FIBA OQT.

Contenders

Croatia CRO

Glass half full: They were one of the most impressive teams of the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, their youngsters like Roko Prkacin, Lovro Gnjidic, Matej Rudan, Darko Bajo are getting legit big-time minutes in the Adriatic League, they have the continuity with Veljko Mrsic staying at the helm.

Glass half empty: The ghosts of the 2019 Qualifiers are still floating around, somewhere, and Slovenia-Finland-Sweden sounds like a much tougher draw than Italy-Netherlands-Romania they faced four years ago.

Germany GER

Glass half full: These guys don't need superstars. They have developed a solid core of international players who are able to get the job done, and their summer of 2021 was just another step in establishing Germany as a full squad of good players instead of relying on one superstar do it all. Plus, they are hosting the FIBA EuroBasket 2022, they will want to get there in a good mood.

Glass half empty: Henrik Rodl left after four years, which puts new playcaller Gordon Herbert in a tricky situation, to keep the momentum going, while creating his own brand of basketball, and doing it all with Estonia, Israel and Poland lurking around, waiting to smell blood. Not an easy job.

Latvia LAT

Glass half full: Luca Banchi is their head coach, and he's put together a team with so much international experience. Ate and Zoriks have won games in the Basketball Champions League, Kurucs is a star for Partizan in Belgrade, guys like Bertans, Lomazs, Meiers, Mejeris, Pasecniks, Skele and Zagars are playing abroad, and the entire nation still remembers falling short in 2019.

Glass half empty: That 1-5 campaign in the build-up to the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 is activating a lot of negative triggers when it comes to mentioning Latvia and Qualifiers in the same sentence.

Russia RUS

Glass half full: Zoran Lukic is the perfect man for this kind of job. The 50-year-old Serbian coach spent over a decade in Russia, and his project in Nizhny Novgorod is all about giving minutes and important roles to Russian players. The fact that he led BC NN to the Final 8 of the BCL last season while playing with (almost) an all-Russian squad sounds like a solid reason why Lukic and Russia could be a fun match.

Glass half empty: Scroll up to Germany - all the same question marks are here in the middle of a coaching change, with the difference that Sergey Bazarevich held this position for five years, so even longer than Rodl in Germany.

Turkey TUR

Glass half full: They were a team that almost defeated the United States at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, they dominated the Qualifiers for that event, they have an ever-improving domestic league with as many as 10 clubs also playing European competitions, leading to a lot more meaningful minutes for homegrown players to gain international experience.


Glass half empty: The drama of FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. They were almost out, despite hosting two of the three Bubbles, meaning they effectively played five of the six games as hosts.

Wildcards

Belgium BEL

Glass half full: Coach Dario Gjergja. Guards Sam van Rossom, Quentin Serron, Retin Obasohan. Wings Hans Vanwijn, Jean-Marc Mwema, Pierre-Antoine Gillet. Centers Ismael Bako, Haris Bratanovic. Yeah, this is a legit team. Why didn't we put them even higher up?

Glass half empty: Just three years ago Belgium were playing the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Pre-Qualifiers, because they had a 1-5 record in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers First Round. Ah, okay, that's why there's skepticism over here, sure, got it now.

Bosnia and Herzegovina BIH

Glass half full: Don't look at Bosnia and Herzegovina as that team that never qualified for a global event. Or even as that team that hasn't made the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA EuroBasket since 1993. Look at them as the 5-1 team which soared over the competition during the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. Why stop now?

 
Glass half empty: Lithuania and Czech Republic in the First Round, then potentially France in the next? All of them were great at the last World Cup, two of them were at the Olympics too, and one of them needs to be behind BIH after 12 games over here.

Czech Republic CZE

Glass half full: ERA Nymburk have established themselves as a rock-solid BCL contender, and by doing so, they gave a whole lot of Czech players an opportunity to play international basketball. But now, the quality is spreading to other clubs domestically, with guys from Opava, USK Prague, JIP Pardubice, Brno and Ostrava getting call ups to the national team. Basketball is no longer reserved for one club in CZE, and the national team will greatly benefit from it.

Glass half empty: Their average age for the first Window is 29. By the time the World Cup arrives, they will have a roster in desperate need of refreshment.

Georgia GEO

Glass half full: They love their Qualifiers over there in Georgia. They went 5-3 to reach FIBA EuroBasket 2011, 6-2 in 2013, 4-2 in 2015, 5-1 in 2017, and 4-2 in 2022, meaning they are easily one of the best teams in any kind of Qualifiers. National team basketball is a big deal over there, especially when you consider they are hosting one of the groups of the FIBA EuroBasket 2022.

Glass half empty: Okay, they love the Qualifiers, but at the same time, they went 5-7 for the last World Cup. Spain, Ukraine, North Macedonia - already the First Round sounds like a tough draw for them.

Israel ISR

Glass half full: Have you ever been to Israel to watch a basketball game? Okay, then you know. Also, their backcourt is bound to have 20 assists per game with guys like Tamir Blatt, Yam Madar and Gal Mekel on board.


Glass half empty: Is the atmosphere in Tel Aviv and that backcourt depth really enough to send five among Germany, Poland, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Finland and Sweden packing? Israel last made the World Cup back in 1986.

Montenegro MNE

Glass half full: Look no further than the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers, where they went 7-5 to pick up a place at the summit on the very last game day, edging out Latvia, reaching the global event for the first time ever.

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Glass half empty: Look no further than the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, where they went 3-3 and failed to pick up a place at the summit, being edged out by Great Britain and France, failing to reach the continental event for the second time in last three qualifying campaigns.

Poland POL

Glass half full: They were there in the Quarter-Finals in 2019, they knocked out the hosts, shocked the world, it's only natural that they pick up where they left off, especially by getting the man who keeps winning national titles over there to guide the national team. Igor Milicic is one of the most exciting names in European coaching circles, leading Poland to another summit could be the showcase for his tricks and Xs and Os.


Glass half empty: Scroll back to Russia and Germany. Except, with Poland it's an even bigger change, because Mike Taylor had been with the team since 2014.

Outside Chance

 

Estonia EST

Glass half full: Average age in the first window just 25, basketball on the rise in the country, Kalev/Cramo becoming the first ever Estonian team to reach the Basketball Champions League, teenagers like Henri Veesaar learning in clubs like Real Madrid. Okay, Estonia could be the feel-good story here. Why aren't they in a higher tier!?

Glass half empty: Estonia never reached the World Cup, they only appeared in one FIBA EuroBasket in the last 18 years, and they barely made it out alive in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, advancing even with a 2-4 record. Okay, that's why they aren't in a higher tier.

Finland FIN

Glass half full: Elias Valtonen and Sasu Salin are playing really good in Spain, Alexander Madsen is providing a lot of highlights for VEF Riga in the BCL, Mikael Jantunen's return to Europe seems like a smart choice in Filou Oostende in Belgium, and Lassi Tuovi is ready to take the reigns from Henrik Dettmann. A 2-0 start doesn't sound crazy with games in Sweden and at home against Croatia in November.


Glass half empty: Finland only made it to the World Cup once, back in 2014, and they had to hold their breaths to reach the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 during the last competitive training camp, going from 1-3 to 3-3 in the last bubble. Slow starts, such as that one, could see them going 0-2 in November before back-to-back games against Olympic Semi-Finalists Slovenia in February.

Great Britain GBR

Glass half full: Reaching the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 with ease, beating France, beating Montenegro, sweeping Germany in progress... What's not to like about this team? The fact that the London Lions made it through in the FIBA Europe Cup Second Round is just another plus.

Glass half empty: They have to eliminate Serbia or Turkey or Greece, plus Belgium, Latvia, Slovakia and Belarus to reach the World Cup. They have the toughest of starts possible, facing Greece in Newcastle, then flying to Istanbul for a rendezvous with Turkey.

Hungary HUN

Glass half full: They were already an inch away from reaching China two years ago, finishing with a 6-6 record after 12 games. Hungary also stormed through the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, despite having one of the worst possible schedules with four games in the Februar window. That showed how tough they are as a team.

Glass half empty: Hungary weren't even close to defeating relaxed Slovenia and Ukraine over that period, losing those two by 46 points combined. Austria also sent them to overtime the first time they met back then. They can't afford to slip up against Portugal on Gameday 1, because they've got France waiting behind the corner.

 

Netherlands NED

Glass half full: Coach Maurizio Buscaglia. Boxscore machine Emmanuel Nzekwesi. Charlon Kloof ready to raise the roof. Keye van der Vuurst growing up before our eyes. Guys in orange have a lot of positives going on, if coach Buscaglia steals a game from his homeland, they could be on their way to the Second Round here.

Glass half empty: In order for them to qualify to the World Cup, one of the juggernauts in Italy, Russia and Spain will have to be eliminated. Plus Iceland. Plus Georgia. Plus Ukraine. Plus North Macedonia.

Sweden SWE

Glass half full: Hey Brother, basketball in Sweden could be in For a Better Day. They've been through the Divine Sorrow for not making the FIBA EuroBasket 2022, but now they went "Wake Me Up" because they can Taste the Feeling of making the World Cup for the first time ever. Those were all Avicii song names to set the mood, because Sweden will play their home games in the Avicii arena in Stockholm.

Glass half empty: With Slovenia, Croatia and Finland in their group, Sweden could be playing Fade into Darkness or Without You by the end of the First Round...

Ukraine UKR

Glass half full: Four players from Prometey, their national champs, plus Issuf Sanon as the lightning bolt, plus international man mountains in Artem Pustovyi and Volodymyr Herun. All of them coached by Ainars Bagatskis, with a schedule that sees them avoid world champs Spain in the first Window, giving them a chance to go 2-0 - exact definition of an Outside Chance team.

Glass half empty: Reaching the World Cup over 12 games just seems like such a long journey. One in which Ukraine runs out of fuel, despite all the good efforts. Last time around, they beat Spain and Slovenia in the Qualifiers, and still fell two wins short of reaching China 2019.

Underdogs

Belarus BLR

Glass half full: There's nothing to lose in these games, and facing Greece and Turkey in the First Round could be a valuable lesson. This is a matter of enjoying the competition, learning, and potentially growing for the next events, one step at a time.

Glass half empty: How many lessons are there to be taught before making an impact?

Bulgaria BUL

Glass half full: It always feels like Bulgaria are here just for drama and excitement. Overtimes, clutch shots, halfcourt shots, buzzer beaters, it all happens when they are on the floor. The best part about those close games? Bulgaria don't feel the pressure of having to make the World Cup in 2023.

Glass half empty: Bulgaria don't feel the pressure of having to make the World Cup in 2023. Reaching the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 is a huge plus and a sign of relief, but they only made it with a 2-4 record, way behind Greece and BIH in their group.

Iceland ISL

Glass half full: Let's put it this way. Denmark were the team everybody loved during the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. But Iceland dismantled them in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Pre-Qualifiers Second Round, sweeping them in two games, keeping them out of the Qualifiers. Iceland are now ready to be the Cinderella story of this cycle.

Glass half empty: They missed out on the FIBA EuroBasket 2022, they were only 2-4 in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers, and they have to knock out one of Russia, Italy or the Netherlands to reach the Second Round here. Tough.

North Macedonia MKD

Glass half full: Nenad Dimitrijevic and Jacob Wiley are back for another run. With their alley-oops and highlights, the entire world could hear about the North Macedonia team, and the entire world could fall in love with the yellow and red combo on the jersey.


Glass half empty: They failed to reach the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 main event, they weren't even in the mix for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers because they were out in the Pre-Qualifiers already. Not the best track record, especially when you're up against Spain in your group here.

Portugal POR

Glass half full: They have already made one step forward compared to the last run of World Cup Qualifiers. They didn't make the cut back then, stuck in the Pre-Qualifiers, but they made it now, easily, four wins above the line in the First Round, three wins above the line in the second one.

Glass half empty: A group with France, Hungary and Montenegro means Portugal did not have the best of luck in the draw.

Slovakia SVK

Glass half full: Reaching the Qualifiers after a three-way tie with North Macedonia and Switzerland in the Pre-Qualifiers, that already sounds like mission accomplished for Slovakia. They are yet to appear in a major FIBA event, so every win they pick up here is already a milestone.

Glass half empty: If they barely made it out alive in a group with North Macedonia and Switzerland, what should we expect from them against Top Candidates like Serbia, Contenders like Latvia and Outside Chance team Belgium?

FIBA