Power Rankings: Which European teams are best placed for the World Cup?
MUNICH (Germany) - It's still relatively early days on the road to FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, but the action is heating up heading into the final window of the First Round of the European Qualifiers.
Ahead of the June-July games, 12 teams have already confirmed their places in the next phase and will be joined by 12 more nations as the preliminary Group Phase concludes in the next few weeks and paves the way for the Second Round.
Number 12 will also be the theme as we roll out our traditional Power Rankings and take a look at each team's chances of eventually claiming one of the 12 spots designated for Europe in the 2023 edition of the World Cup in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
So who is currently best placed to qualify? Let's dive in!
#1 - FRANCE
Current Record: 4-0 (1st in Group E)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 4th
Short-term outlook: So far, so good from France. There's a reason why they are strongly fancied at FIBA EuroBasket 2022 later this summer with their strength in depth standing out in the European Qualifiers. They conclude Group E action with a visit to Montenegro before hosting Hungary with strong additions to the squad as they look to cement a 6-0 record.
Long-term outlook: France will already have one eye on the Second Round with some exciting battles with Lithuania to come. Taking six wins into Group K would give them a major advantage to take one of the three spots with two of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Czech Republic also making up their future opponents.
#2 - SPAIN
Current Record: 3-0 (2nd in Group G)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 2nd
Short-term outlook: It's been a smooth ride for the reigning World champions with three wins from three in Group G action. They have been relatively untroubled to date, but still have a second meeting with the three other teams in their group including games in Tbilisi and Riga to finish.
Long-term outlook: Spain know the teams that await in the next phase with Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands moving onto Group L, and they will be confident of having a chance to defend their title at next year's major tournament. Having seen some legends of the game retire in recent years, they are already looking to the next generation with new faces thrown into the mix.
#3 - LITHUANIA
Current Record: 4-0 (1st in Group F)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 8th
Short-term outlook: Lithuania laid down a marker with successive wins over Bosnia and Herzegovina to maintain their 100-percent start and lock up a Second Round berth. They finish up Group F action on the road against Bulgaria before hosting Czech Republic in Klaipeda.
Long-term outlook: With four wins already to their name, Lithuania will be in a good place heading into the Second Round. France will obviously provide strong opposition, but with Hungary and Montenegro expected to join them, Lithuania will have the World Cup in their sights.
#4 - GREECE
Current Record: 2-1 (1st in Group B)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 9th
Short-term outlook: Confidence will be high after back-to-back wins over Turkey, and they were needed after an opening loss to Great Britain. The reverse fixture in Larissa will give Greece the opportunity to avenge the defeat and close out Group B with a 3-1 record.
Long-term outlook: Group I has the potential to be one of the most wide-open groups in the Second Round as the top three teams from Groups A and B merge. Serbia and Latvia are confirmed opposition with the final team to be determined, and that leads to some fascinating matchups to come - starting in August with Greece hoping to have three wins to their name.
#5 - SERBIA
Current Record: 3-1 (1st in Group A)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 6th
Short-term outlook: Serbia's campaign got off to a frenetic start with a thrilling win at home to Latvia followed by a surprise loss away in Belgium. They meet those two opponents again in the next few weeks with results being carried forward to add to their importance.
Long-term outlook: Nikola Jokic is expected to be available when the Second Round starts in August and Serbia will have the likes of Greece and Turkey to contend with in Group I. Their current 3-1 record is effectively 1-1 with results not counting against the fourth-placed team, so that is another element to the upcoming games.
#6 - ITALY
Current Record: 2-1 (1st in Group H)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 10th
Short-term outlook: How do they put the Iceland defeat behind them? Italy managed to avenge the surprise defeat on home soil and finish up against the Netherlands as they begin a new era under the leadership of new head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco.
Long-term outlook: How costly will the Iceland defeat prove to be? Italy would have targeted four wins from their games with Iceland and the Netherlands, so that is an early setback. They have Spain and Georgia to come in the Second Round, but will still be favored to be among the top three in Group L.
#7 - GERMANY
Current Record: 3-1 (1st in Group D)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 11th
Short-term outlook: Germany have found form in the European Qualifiers following on from an opening loss at home to Estonia. They sit in pole position, but still need to confirm their place in the next phase as they finish up the First Round against Estonia and Poland.
Long-term outlook: With all results being carried through to Group J in the Second Round, every win is vital for Germany and if they can advance with a 5-1 record, then that would be a major step toward the World Cup - even with tough opponents to follow.
#8 - SLOVENIA
Current Record: 2-2 (2nd in Group C)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 5th
Short-term outlook: The immediate plan is to confirm their place in the Second Round. After a perfect 2-0 start, Slovenia were pegged by two losses at the hands of Finland and now face an uncertain fate. The availability of Luka Doncic is a massive factor and victory at home to Croatia would be enough to advance.
Long-term outlook: Inconsistent results cost Slovenia in their quest to qualify in 2019, and the reigning European champions are determined to avoid a similar fate - their upcoming squad is telling. Should they advance, they will come up against three teams from Group D and setting the tone in August could be crucial.
#9 - LATVIA
Current Record: 3-1 (2nd in Group A)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 26th
Short-term outlook: After an agonizing opening loss in Belgrade, Latvia have reeled off three straight wins including an important double over Belgium. They host Serbia in Riga in their next game and victory would have huge implications moving forward.
Long-term outlook: It's still way too early to call, but the early signs point to Latvia and Turkey battling it out in a decisive matchup in Group I. Latvia are hoping to have a certain Kristaps Porzingis at their disposal at August and already know that Greece and Great Britain await, too.
#10 - TURKEY
Current Record: 1-2 (2nd in Group B)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 16th
Short-term outlook: While their place in the Second Round is confirmed, Turkey need to bounce back from two losses to Greece and restore momentum with victory on the road against Great Britain and they have a strong-looking roster capable of doing so in style.
Long-term outlook: It's still way too early to call, but the early signs point to Turkey and Latvia battling it out in a decisive matchup in Group I. Turkey know they will come up against powerhouses Serbia and would be expected to come out on top over Belgium (or Slovakia).
#11 - FINLAND
Current Record: 3-1 (1st in Group D)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 35th
Short-term outlook: Finland's double over Slovenia in the second window has put them on the verge of qualification from Group D. They top the group with a home game against Sweden next before finishing up on the road against Croatia in what they hope doesn't become a must-win encounter.
Long-term outlook: Their World Cup debut in 2014 remains their only appearance in the tournament, and it's still a long way to go before Finland can make plans for next year. Group J is set for some intriguing battles with three of Germany, Israel, Estonia and Poland making up their opposition should they advance.
#12 - GEORGIA
Current Record: 3-1 (1st in Group G)
FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike: 36th
Short-term outlook: Job done in locking up a place in the Second Round with two games to spare with Ukraine and Spain to come in the upcoming window. Georgia had Toko Shengelia in inspired mood in their opening victory over Ukraine, though they lost by 28 away in Spain with improvements still needed.
Long-term outlook: Georgia could be set to lose their two wins over North Macedonia, should they finish in fourth place, going into the Second Round. That puts added importance on the final two games before they can look ahead to showdowns with Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands in Group L in what could well be favorable matchups.
So, what about the other 18 teams in the frame?
Outside looking in:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Montenegro
Iceland are already through, while the other four teams are well placed with their current 2-2 records. Hungary and Montenegro have already battled France and could face Lithuania next, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, who have impressed. Israel have been consistent performers in the Qualifiers in recent years and are very much in contention.
Work to do:
Belgium, Estonia, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden
Great Britain will advance, but can expect a very tough challenge in the Second Round, while it is the same for the Netherlands who are without a win to their name. Belgium are on the verge of a place in the next phase, while Estonia and Sweden are in a precarious position with their 2-2 records as they hope to first make it through.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine
Ukraine are best placed of this quintet, but with results against the fourth-placed team in their group not counting towards Second Round classification, then they could advance winless. Bulgaria and Czech Republic are locked in a battle to move on, while Croatia and Poland are both hoping to avoid being the biggest casualties from the First Round.
On the ropes:
North Macedonia, Portugal, Slovakia
The chances of making it out of the First Round are slim for this trio, who are all still searching for a first win. North Macedonia and Slovakia both have big points differentials to make up if they are to pull off great escapes, while it is similar for Portugal although they have two chances.
*The power rankings are entirely subjective and is in no way a true, accurate ranking systems. All comments are purely those of the author.