Preview: Groups G to I
MUNICH (FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017 Qualifiers) – The surge for tickets to FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017 will come to a head during this last qualifying window and we look at who is best placed to advance from Groups G, H and I.
It’s all change in Group G for Belarus who will try to get over the finishing line under the watchful eye of Nataliya Trafimava. She was playing for her country earlier this year, but now finds herself in the hot-seat after picking up the coaching reins from Anatoli Buyalski. While her team are currently top of the group with a 2-1 record, she has a few headaches ahead of the crunch game in Belgium, since she will be without the likes of naturalised point guard Lindsey Harding and marquee star Yelena Leuchanka. At least she can take positives from the form of Mariya Papova who has hit the ground running in her first year with Galatasaray, while Fenerbahce’s Anastasiya Verameyenka and Katsiaryna Snytsina of Hatay are both class players.
For Belgium and their head coach Philip Mestdagh, it’s a case of taking two victories to top the group and be sure of progressing. That task will be in the hands of a top drawer combo in the paint, with the legendary Ann Wauters back to partner the incredible Emma Meesseman who is averaging a jaw-dropping 30 points and 15 rebounds per game so far in the campaign. It’s been a decade since Belgium last featured at a Final Round and if they are to end their hiatus, they will have to firstly overcome Belarus on Saturday who beat them 76-71 in Minsk a year ago.
Perhaps Poland could spring a surprise next Wednesday for Belgium – even if they did hammer them 100-63 on home soil back in February. The wheels came crashing off for the Polish side and they are missing some big-hitters for the meeting in Walbrzych, which doesn’t bode well for their hopes of sneaking through.
There could be some fun for the neutrals in Group H where Turkey will be expected to complete their mission as they currently sit at the top of the standings with a 3-1 record and with home games in Ankara against Bosnia and Herzegovina and then Romania on their agenda. They have depth in their ranks and while Nevriye Yilmaz has retired, she was not utilised during their campaign anyway and they have found ways to win without the veteran legend.
Losing to Israel by a point was a wake-up call from their last game and should sharpen their focus. They have depth and a nice mix of experience and youth to call upon, with the former including the likes of Isil Alben, Birsel Vardarli Demirmen and either Lara Sanders or Quanitra Hollingsworth in the naturalised position in the paint.
Currently 1-3, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to upset the odds and pull off a win in the Turkish capital on Saturday and they do have some hugely talented players in forward combo of WNBA draftee Marica Gajic who plays her club basketball in Turkey and also the naturalised Lynetta Kizer who has played for Galatasaray in recent times.
In a wide-open group, both Israel and Romania also have 2-2 records and are realistically eying up second spot. That is why their meeting on Saturday in Cluj looks like it could determine who takes that berth in the final shake-up. While Romania have lost the influential Claudia Pop to an injury, they have moved to naturalised Reyer Venezia powerhouse Ashley Walker which may give them an edge, while Israel will look to Shay Doron and their own naturalised forward in Alysha Clark to fly the flag.
EuroBasket Women 2013 winners and recent Olympic finalists Spain were the first nation to join hosts Czech Republic next summer after they wrapped up their pass to the Final Round back in February. They will be strongly fancied to finish their schedule with a win against Finland on Saturday and complete an unbeaten campaign.
The best Finland can hope for is claiming the big scalp of neighbours Sweden and spoil the party for the locals in Lulea next Wednesday with a memorable derby victory. Sweden are aiming to qualify for a third straight Final Round appearance and their hopes hang in the balance, with two victories the maximum they can take forward in the final calculations for the best-placed runners-up.
They will need the veteran know-how of hometown favourite Anna Barthold to keep them on course, along with Amanda Zahui who has had a brilliant start to her career in EuroLeague Women with Nadezhda Orenburg and already shown her skill in the previous qualification games.