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My 10 takeaways from the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019 draw
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women’s Basketball Worldwide) – Last week's draw for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 in Latvia and Serbia has whet the appetite in a big way and the countdown to the big show is now on.
Here are my 10 takeaways from the draw:
D is for 'Group of Death'
Did we all go 'Ouch' when Group D was confirmed? I am sure we did. The biggest talking point of the draw is that there most certainly is the obligatory 'Group of Death' and fittingly it is indeed, Group D. To have Serbia, Belgium, Russia and Belarus in that opening phase playing each other is just crazy-good from a basketball standpoint. If you are watching those games live, it's going to be absolutely epic and it could be Belarus who prove to be the fly in the ointment for one their medal-chasing rivals.
A wide open Group C
While everyone in Group D blows out from their cheeks in anticipation of just how tough this is going to be, I suspect everyone involved with Hungary, Turkey, Italy and Slovenia will be rubbing their hands in anticipation and thinking they have a great chance of progressing to the next phase. The irony is that it depends how you look at it. Perhaps you could make the case that this is also a 'Group of Death' with no standout favorites?
Sweden have the chance of making a splash on their return
Sweden missed out at the previous Final Round and I am thrilled to see them back. Not only do they have plenty of dynamic players that I enjoy watching, but their colorful and sizable support is a boon for any tournament at any level. Interestingly, I suspect that Sweden might quietly fancy their chances of making it past the group stage and taking that yellow and blue army to Serbia. Could they make a splash on their return? I think so. On paper at least, while France are favorites in the Group, I don't see much difference between them and both Czech Republic or Montenegro. In fact, with the Eldebrink sisters, Amanda Zahui and rising star Klara Lundquist who is getting better every time I see her, you could make a case that the last seeds in the draw are potentially slim favorites against those two rivals.
Co-hosts under immediate pressure
It is bite your nails time for both co-hosts. It is not only Serbia who have a tough task ahead, but also Latvia. They have been drawn against holders and favorites Spain, a dangerous Ukraine and resurgent Great Britain. Latvia have this unwanted 'choking' label set against them by some people – something which is said to extend beyond the parameters of basketball. There is always pressure on tournament hosts of course and it will be interesting to see how the players of both Latvia and Serbia stand up to the mental challenge. Perhaps having tough groups might gently quash some expectations and prove a positive? I can't wait to find out. Many neutrals will want Serbia to progress with them hosting the Final Phase of the tournament and I agree after Czech Republic crashed and burned early in 2017. It is like having a party in someone else's house and them being locked outside.
We will get to see how good Belgium really are
As most of you will be aware, I am Belgium's biggest fan because their brand of basketball can be well and truly breath-taking. Having won a historic bronze at the previous edition to make the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup for the first time, where they caused a positive stir again by making more history and the Semi-Finals, expectations are high. My article about how they saved the women's game in Tenerife grabbed a lot of attention. Now they have to stand up to a new pressure and a new measuring stick. One which views them no longer as an emerging nation on the senior scene, but genuine challengers. So with the initial 'Group of Death' we will find out just how good they really can be!
Turkey get lucky again with the draw
Maybe it is just me (and people who know me will laugh) but Turkey always seem to get lucky in the draws. I have been highlighting for 18 months to two years, what I think are deep rooted issues with Turkish women's basketball and how it could result in a real downtown in results and performances. But each time, they seem to get a good draw that saves their skin and/or limits the damage. I am not sure this is a good thing as it can paper over some widening cracks. As we saw in Tenerife, even a good draw can't always save you as a defeat to Nigeria testified. But they still must be dancing with joy after getting Group C. They fired Coach Ekrem Memnun recently and the new playcaller actually has half a chance of doing well with this draw. Even if I think it papers over the cracks again of many of those deeper issues.
Slovenia capable of making more history
There is every chance that if they play well and to their obvious potential, Slovenia can make more history and get past the Group Phase. They made their Final Round debut at the last edition and were perhaps unfortunate not to advance further. This time they will surely be expecting to take that step They have so many exciting players and many emerging talents that they could be real fun to watch and any team with Nika Baric, Teja Oblak, Eva Lisec and Zala Friskovec is one that I want to watch!
Mondelo v Zibarts and that Kursk connection
I had a smile when Spain were drawn with Latvia, because while the holders are almost inevitably going to win, there is a nice connection between both head coaches. Lucas Mondelo who of course is still with Dynamo Kursk, won the EuroLeague Women title with Latvia playcaller Martins Zibarts as one of his assistants. Now Coach Zibarts is making a EuroLeague Women noise of his own with TTT Riga who are having a super season so far.
Where's your calculator?
Make sure you have it handy, because there is every chance that there could be three-way ties galore if you plot everything out on paper. Although I hear you, I should remember my own advice that women's basketball is so unpredictable that I should stop wasting my time looking at how things look on paper. But I do seriously think we will be left doing some number crunching, since even if you just take Group A and believe Spain will beat everyone, there could surely be a 1-2 tie between Latvia, Ukraine and Great Britain who are all capable of being 1-1 and splitting with each other. It could also be the same in Group D if Belarus go 0-3 as some might think. With Russia, Belgium and Serbia also all capable of being 2-1 and splitting 1-1 with each other. It could get complicated!
Club locker room rivalry
Right across the Continent, club locker rooms will now see numerous examples of teammates able to joke with each other about international rivalries that lie in wait. For example, at Fenerbahce practice when Italian duo Giorgia Sottana and Cecilia Zandalasini were drawn against Turkey. Meanwhile Emma Meesseman of UMMC will go up against her frontcourt partner, Maria Vadeeva when Belgium face Russia. And so on, and so on!
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