26 July, 2021
08 August
27 Saki Hayashi (JPN), 13 Rui Machida (JPN), 5 Kim Mestdagh (BEL)
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One of all-time great women's games headlines Quarter-Finals day in Tokyo

TOKYO (Japan) - It's a contest that generations will talk about - and not just by fans of Japan who celebrated their team making history with a first-ever Semi-Finals spot at the Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament.

Their 86-85 Quarter-Finals triumph over Belgium was a game for the ages. An epic, a  classic. It came only 48 hours after a question had been posed about whether a beautiful basketball blueprint for the women's game had already been laid out in Tokyo? The answer was an emphatic yes as Japan and Belgium served up one of the greatest women's games of all-time - or at the very least, within an Olympic context.

There were 13 lead changes and the score was tied seven times. Most neutrals were probably praying for overtime, maybe a double, triple or quadruple - nobody wanted the fun to end. Japan made a comeback in the last minutes, capitalizing on an unsportsmanlike foul and some amazing three-pointers to get the job done. Then Saki Hayashi drilled the killer blow.

That dagger was sourced as assist number 14 from the hand of Rui Machida, as the guard passed a jaw-dropping 51 tournament assists in just four games. Yuki Miyazawa was also superb and dropped seven shots from downtown, while 'Captain Fantastic' Maki Takada shot the lights out, too, with 19 points.

Contrasting emotions were triggered on the buzzer as Belgium missed a shot to snatch the win. It laid bare the raw beauty and cruelty of sport in such pivotal moments. The joy of an entire nation erupted for the Olympic hosts. A few metres away, the Belgian Cats were heartbroken as their stirring debut at the Games ended with a gut punch.

"I told the coaches of Belgium and some of the players that I felt sorry and bad for them as they are such an amazing team and so humble," said Japan play-caller, Tom Hovasse afterwards.

"I felt bad for my over-exuberant celebration and did not mean any disrespect, but I literally lost my mind for 20 seconds. It was amazing and I have not felt like that for a long time."

Neither had everyone that loves women's basketball, Tom. Or the many new fans that this stunningly magnetic and captivating game probably attracted.  He continued: "The game had so many peaks and valleys. We were hanging onto the cliff by a fingernail in the last quarter.  This is the biggest win in Japan's history as we have never been to this level before. The support we are going to get is going to be huge," he insisted, perhaps still not fully coming to terms with the fact that Japan are a win away from playing for the Olympic title on home soil.

As for Belgium, the Cats should live to see another Olympic Games soon - namely Paris 2024. They will also be expected to both qualify and make a strong surge at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 next year -  especially with Emma Meesseman on board. She signed off on her tournament debut with another spectacular line with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. Kim Mestdagh couldn't convert the potential game-winner, but she should be remembered for the brilliant 24 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists she put up in this knockout round game.

Earlier in the day, Serbia showed there is no basketball school quite like the old school as their experienced players helped turn things around against China to take a hard-fought 77-70 win. Sonja Vasic showed there might be enough in the tank to repeat the podium finish of 2016 when they took bronze as she put up 16 points and 10 rebounds today.

With Vasic's play steady, Ana Dabovic provided the spark. With the defense cranked up at one end, she released a triple from somewhere near Hawaii to really make Serbia believe. The team then continued in this vein. The European champions had trailed by nine points heading into the last ten minutes. As with Japan, winning coach Marina Maljkovic was quick to pay respects to her opponents as their first loss led to an exit.

 "I want to congratulate the big team that China is," Maljkovic said. "Having worked there, I know this is the best China team in the last 15 years for sure.

"Living in Shanghai for two years and seeing all the efforts they are making around women's basketball makes this win for us a huge one," Maljkovic added. "China are an amazing team - we knew we would have to do it with an exceptional performance. We knew that the game would be very difficult and very demanding.

"We came back after an extremely difficult third quarter to win this game, but  I don't want to stop here.  We want to continue and bring another medal to our country."

Serbia will play the USA in the Semi-Finals as the reigning champions stride with purpose past Australia 79-55 off the back of more  brilliance from Breanna Stewart. She had 23 points and barely missed a shot, while the Opals were sent packing and with many questions to answer after a mediocre tournament at best. All the more urgent with the hosting of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup just over a year away. But all that is for another time when the dust has settled.

France and Spain met in the last game of a gripping Quarter-Finals day. If anyone thought the drama quota had been used up they were wrong. Familiar neighbors that know each other like a married couple due to the sheer amount of time they have been together on the court in past years, it was France who prevailed 67-64.

Marine Johannes was the difference-maker as she racked up 18 points, including a majestic bucket off the glass during crunch time with 0.1 seconds remaining on the shot-clock. Beaten so many times in big games by Spain in recent years, this win laid a few ghosts to rest. It also handed France a glorious opportunity to step towards the podium and maybe a repeat of their silver medal at London 2012.

Meanwhile Spain's exit will have caused a celebration in Moscow, since their exit form the competition confirm's Russia's spot in the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournaments.