Six must watch games of the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments 2024
MIES (Switzerland) - The FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments 2024 promise to provide an epic treat for fans as the Road to Paris 2024 provides one last decisive stopover on the way to the Games.
Some nations will realize their dreams and get to march proudly onwards to the French capital, with others having to deal with the despair of coming up short at the very last hurdle.
Set to take place in the cities of Antwerp, Belgium; Belem, Brazil; Sopron, Hungary; and a city to be confirmed in China, the games will take place February 8 to 11 next year, with last week's draw throwing up some truly blockbuster match-ups.
Here are the top six to put on your watchlist.
Spain vs Japan (Sopron, Hungary)
This is going to be a sensational clash between two nations who finished second in their respective Continental Cups, but have such an amazing pedigree at the international level. Of course, Japan made that fairytale run to a historic first-ever Final on home soil at Tokyo 2020, while Spain also broke amazing new ground at the previous edition when they stepped out for their maiden title game at Rio 2016.
Both countries are renowned for their brands of basketball that are both heavily team-orientated, with Japan's ability to make it rain from long-range and Spain's energetic efforts defensively looking like a battle that everyone needs to watch. Both teams are also likely to have some of the rising stars of the new generation such as Raquel Carrera for Spain and Mai Yamamoto for Japan.
Australia vs Serbia (Belem, Brazil)
This is going to be so crunchy and enjoyable in every single way.
For context, this is the absolute 'Group of Death' by some distance, with every nation able to beat everyone on paper. But this game in particular could be the one that is so definitive in the final shake-up. Australia will be gunning for an incredible 8th straight Olympic Games ticket, while Serbia had never appeared at all until as recently as Rio 2016 and are bidding to go three in a row. They also took bronze on debut, four years later than the Opals' last podium finish.
Australia must play at a high level to keep their Olympic appearance streak intact. That means getting their best ballers onto the floor and building on the momentum of third place in Sydney as hosts of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022. With such depth to choose from, the roster itself will be fascinating, while Serbia have been managing the growing pains of transition reasonably well. And, with legendary playcaller Marina Maljkovic holding the coaching reins. it's always a big challenge for their opponents.
Germany vs Brazil (Belem, Brazil)
What a time to be alive if you support Germany.
Having already been handed the exciting honor of being crowned hosts of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2026, they have another big event to look forward to in the wake of a super sixth-place finish at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 when head coach Lisa Thomaidis did a great job in her first major tournament at the helm.
If Germany add Satou Sabally to the mix of the already highly impactful and talented group containing Marie Guelich, Luisa Geiselsoder and Leonie Fiebich, they are going to be tough. But then so are Brazil after landing a record-breaking sixth FIBA Women's AmeriCup crown earlier this year. Watch out for the formidable frontcourt punch of Kamilla Soares Cardoso and Damiris Dantas, with the South Americans looking to make up for missing out on Tokyo 2020, no doubt helped by some noisy home support in Belem!
Belgium vs USA (Antwerp, Belgium)
While USA might already be qualified due to their status as FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 champions, who doesn't love to check out the overwhelming favorites to capture a jaw-dropping eighth straight Olympic gold? They remain the standard bearers for the women's game globally and will have the usual roster that is not just sprinkled in star dust, but comprehensively dripping in it. Any chance to hopefully see the likes of Breanna Stewart and A'Ja Wilson and Co is one you have to take.
Of course, the other main point is that USA will face the newly crowned champions of Europe in the shape of FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments hosts, Belgium. From the perspective of the Cats, this is not a prestigious friendly game, it's business. With Emma Meesseman, Julie Allemand, and Julie Vanloo firing, can they not only get close to USA, but even cause an upset in front of their home fans in Antwerp?
Plus, could this be a potential Final in Paris? Very possibly.
Senegal vs Nigeria (Antwerp, Belgium)
Also in Antwerp, what about this All-African affair? It looks total box-office as realistically (with Belgium and USA in the same group), it could prove to act almost as a one-off game to take that oh-so-precious Olympic ticket. Nigeria were at Tokyo 2020 and Senegal stepped out at Rio 2016. Both teams also met in the Final of the FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2023, with Nigeria claiming their fourth consecutive title at the event.
Sure, both teams have a shot at causing a mammoth surprise in the other games, but the smart prediction is that this one goes down to what could be the most nerve-wracking and intense encounter of all the Qualifiers globally. It might not be the prettiest if it does boil down to this game, but get set to possibly watch the decider on who will fly the women's basketball for the entire Continent. Wow.
China vs France (TBC, China)
Yes, France are guaranteed to take to the court at Paris 2024 as Olympic hosts, but this is another fascinating gauge of their progress against the mission of getting onto the Olympic podium - as they did with bronze at Tokyo 2020 and with silver at London 2012. Gabby Williams and Marine Johannes should be back in the mix and the pressure will be on to show they can stand up to the scrutiny and expectation of playing in front of the home fans in Lille.
And what about China? They are still riding the high of winning their first FIBA Women's Asia Cup silverware since back in 2011, as well as having made the title game at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 - also in Sydney. Perhaps they would prefer this WOQT test to be in the Australian city! Instead, they must also deal with pressure and expectations of a different kind. They will have almost universal support inside the arena but have to perform. Step forward Meng Li, Han Xu and Yueru Li.