Will the Belgian Cats make #FIBAWWC history in Sydney?
SYDNEY (Australia) - When Belgium stepped out at the last edition of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup they won the hearts of fans with a breathtaking debut and only just missed out on the podium.
Making a ride all the way to the Semi-Finals with some beautiful play, their impact was so big that after sweeping aside France in the Quarter-Finals, it prompted an opinion piece entitled 'The day Belgium saved women's basketball.'
Since 2018 in Tenerife, they have won another FIBA Women's EuroBasket bronze medal and also played at a first ever Olympic Games when they could have made the Semi-Finals but lost a heartbreaker against Japan in the Quarter-Finals.
But there's also been some significant changes too, with head coach Philip Mestdagh replaced after Tokyo 2020 by Valery Demory and experienced leaders Kim Mestdagh and Ann Wauters both retiring. You can also throw in being beaten by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 Qualifiers.
All of the above feeds into the intriguing question of whether Belgium are well placed (or not) to make history in Sydney by taking their first ever medal at the event.
Recently announcing their roster, albeit with one decision still to be made for the last spot, what are the factors that will determine whether they do get that podium spot?
Uber leadership of Emma Meesseman
With the phenomenal leadership and skills of Meesseman, the Cats can always make a sound case for taking a medal at any flagship event. She will remain the centerpiece and focal point for the team. Not just topping the scoring and rebounding chart for her country, but also making those smart passes, playing defense, holding everyone together in tough times and when needed, putting Belgium on her back to carry them through. Having one of the world's best ballers is priceless!
Collective growth and roller-coaster since Tenerife
While a number of individual players have moved on since 2018 and not least the valuable veteran duo of Ann Wauters and Kim Mestdagh, the important thing is that Belgium have more collective lived experiences as a team. It arguably means they might be better prepared when they land in Sydney. They have had some success but also some tear-jerkers like losing by a point to Japan in Tokyo and agonizingly missing out on a first FIBA Women's EuroBasket Final last year. They will have learned a lot from those defeats.
Classy Allemand pulling the strings
The emergence of Julie Allemand at the 2018 edition was one of the major headlines from the entire tournament in Tenerife as the playmaker put the world on notice that she was stepping up to the elite club of top point guards. Her displays were stunning and she was unstoppable and the heartbeat of Belgium's reliance on team ball and exquisite assists time and time again. If she can get anywhere near that level of performance again, then the Cats could be in business for that podium!
New blood, new talent
Yes, a lot of experience and quality no longer stepping out for Belgium has left a void, but importantly, some dynamic and talented players have stepped into the team. Not least, the emergence of young guns Billie Massey and Maxuella Lisowa-Mbaka, plus Hind Ben Abdelkader ending a long hiatus from national team duties. This new blood and talent should give the team a lift and renewed impetus.
Avoiding the 'Group of Death'
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Not being in the so-called 'Group of Death' should matter to Belgium. While they can't be complacent facing the likes of Korea and Puerto Rico in Group A instead of the hyper-competitive Group B, the pressure might not be as intense as for those teams in the other half of the first phase. It maybe gives them more of an opportunity to iron out some wrinkles before they surely contemplate the knockout phase which will truly determine whether they can get to the podium as many are hoping for.