Preview of Ankara action
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - As I start the first part of my preview for the FIBA World Championship for Women, the prospect of heading to Turkey has increased my heartbeat a little, such is my excitement.
There is little doubt in my mind that on paper at least, Groups A and B in Ankara look potentially more interesting, entertaining and unpredictable than those in Istanbul. Although not that it always pans out that way of course.
Spanish head coach Lucas Mondelo alluded to Group A being the most difficult when the draw was made, but I had Group B originally slated as the obligatory 'Group of Death'. But I have now transferred the cliche firmly to Group A.
I make Spain favourites in the first pool of teams - or at least if they play to their potential. I think we are splitting hairs when it comes to Brazil, Czech Republic and Japan as I see those three as all capable of finishing second- assuming Spain do top the group.
Spain have made some very interesting choices and at the time of writing, still have a couple to make. But the ruthless disposal of Queralt Casas and Cristina Ouvina, shows that Mondelo means business.
Although it is the supporting cast who will probably determine whether Spain get another podium finish as they compete without the retired Elisa Aguilar or Amaya Valdemoro. Their up-tempo approach will be fun to watch and it is their frontcourt which will have to do the business and especially because their opponents have decent size.
I like how Japan are looking and they arguably have the finest frontline in their history with Maki Takada, Ramu Tokashiki and Yuka Mamiya. But much will come down to Yuko Oga and how she performs, because they are definitely hamstrung by the absence of playmaking queen, Asami Yoshida.
The Czech Republic are just hard to beat and with both the legendary Eva Viteckova and experienced Jana Vesela returning, they will go up a level. I like Alena Hanusova and the way she is evolving in the paint, but the lack of a quality point-guard remains their Achilles heel.
Brazil have been up and down during a lengthy preparation, but Clarissa Dos Santos is a class forward with so much to offer and with a trio of WNBA players belatedly linking up with their nation, they will be a very capable unit.
Erika Souza can be dominant and alongside Dos Santos, those two will be tough to handle. Nadia Colhado is quality and hopefully Damiris Dantas will be available after attending to some family issues back in her homeland during recent weeks.
Assuming Mozambique will have little option but to enjoy the ride and experience of playing in Group B, the focus will be on the hosts. I feel Turkey, France and Canada can all beat each other, even though the latter will be less fancied.
Turkey have home support but must also handle the weight of expectations. But with such an experienced line-up and not least in the backcourt, I think they should prevail. They have such a strong rotation in the guard spots, lots of energy and in Nevriye Yilmaz, a brilliant centrepiece. But who will get the nod - Quanitra Hollingsworth or Lara Sanders? It's a seriously big decision for head coach Ceyhun Yildizoglu.
France and Canada will both have coaches making their debuts on the world stage although notably both have stepped up from the assistant positions so are well prepared.
Valerie Garnier has a new-look team to whip into shape, although I was surprised so many younger players were overlooked. In fairness, she has still given a good handful of players their debuts. With Sandrine Gruda and Celine Dumerc at either end of the floor, Les Bleus can never be ruled out and another Last Eight finish should be in the offing. Not sure they will be fun to watch though, as they might look to grind it out - but I guess this has been the case for a while now.
Canada are trying to take their game to a new place under Lisa Thomaidis and it was thrilling to see emerging talents like Nirra Fields, Kia Nurse, Miah-Marie Langlois and Katherine Plouffe given a chance - especially Nurse and Fields. With a winnable game against Mozambique up first, Canada can get confidence and momentum, so they really could be a big danger for Turkey and France.
I am just bursting with excitement to get courtside in Ankara and it is going to be both fascinating and entertaining!
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