Final Eight: Who will take the next step towards the title?
LJUBLJANA (Slovenia) - With places in the last four of the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 at stake and the lure of FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments spots, Thursday's Quarter-Finals could be epic.
Serbia will try to extend their title defense in a repeat of last year's Semi-Final with Belgium, there will be the chance of an upset as underdogs Montenegro take on France, a long-wait might soon be over for Hungary as they face the Czech Republic young guns and Spain will try to end the three-game winning streak of resurgent Germany.
Hungary will be favorites to advance having moved past reigning champions Serbia in their last group game, which in turn catapulted them directly to this spot and within touching distance of ending some long waits when it comes to making the last four and beyond. However, Czech Republic have made everyone sit up and take notice with their play and spirit in the face of adversity, especially being such a young side with an average age of just 24 years old.
Head To Head: Perhaps a little surprisingly, these two nations have only met twice before, with both winning one game each.
Key matchup: Petra Holesinska was superb in the backcourt for Czech Republic in their last game in particular and she will most likely go up against Agnes Studer. If Hungary can close down Holesinska, their chance of winning will rise significantly.
X-Factor: Czech Republic really need to combine being super competitive but also staying out of foul trouble which is a tough balance. Hungary go so deep in terms of options and can rotate heavily, but the Czech team not so much. Even if the young guns did well in the last game against Greece, asking them to repeat would be a but much. While the game management of players by coach Romana Ptackova has been superb, she will want (or need) to have as much of her limited experienced players available for as long as possible.
Stats Don't Lie: Hungary have shot the ball really well so far and at 59 percent, that is the second best in the competition.
Just two years ago, this game was one of the best the competition has seen in some time as Serbia made the Final with a one-point win in Valencia. Although while Marina Maljkovic is insistent that her team are now big underdogs this time around because of Belgium's blistering form, it's maybe a little overstated, since Serbia could be about to knock out the current favorites and are capable of doing so. The Cats will want to avenge what happened at the last edition, and will rely on the in-form Emma Meesseman, Julie Allemand and Julie Vanloo to see them back into the last four.
Head To Head: Serbia have been relatively dominant history-wise, winning four of the five games played between the teams.
Key matchup: Yvonne Anderson versus Julie Allemand is going to be quite something, with the former maybe in more patchy form at this tournament, but always capable of coming up with a game-winning performance for Serbia. Meanwhile Allemand is certainly in-form and even eyeing up a potential tournament record after handing out 11 assists in two individual games already.
X-Factor: Coach Maljkovic was of course the club coach of Emma Meesseman all last season as the pair delivered EuroLeague Women history with Fenerbahce, so does that mean the playcaller will be better placed than anyone to come up with a strategy to slow down Belgium's incredible tour de force?
Stats Don't Lie: Serbia will have to try and slow down the tempo because Belgium have been scorching in the open floor and scored a massive 19.3 fast break points per game so far.
Flawless France have been so hard nosed defensively and it's been the foundation for their progress. Offensively they are yet to hit the heights, but were perhaps distracted by a couple of games when zone defense was thrown at them for long periods. But they look like they are tuning up that side of their game. Montenegro have made a sensational and unexpected run to this stage and even if they don't have the depth or experience of their rivals, they remain a dangerous opponents as they are capable of some seriously streaky scoring spells. They're here at this stage for a third time, having only debuted in the competition 12 years ago.
Head To Head: The teams have met each other three times previously, with France having won two of those games.
Key matchup: Natasha Mack has been one of the players of the tournament so far with some epic numbers and classy showings for her newly adopted country. It will be interesting who takes care of the Montenegro star as Iliana Rupert is a doubt with her shoulder injury, Sandrine Gruda is maybe the next option, but Mack's impressive mobility may lead to someone smaller picking up the task.
X-Factor: The start. Always important in any game of course, it feels particularly important when an underdog like Montenegro is stepping out. They won't be short of confidence after beating Italy co convincingly, but they are a team that likes to jump out. If some early shots drop and they get some momentum straight from the tip-off, it will suddenly feel like a much bigger challenge for France.
Stats Don't Lie: If you're a fan of France, you might be hoping it doesn't go down to the wire as they are the worst free-throw shooting team left in the competition - barely scraping 60 percent.
After their false start in Tel Aviv when they were stunned by Latvia, Spain have picked themselves up and will be expected to move past a Germany team who are at this stage for the first time since 1997. But it is perhaps a lot more finely balanced than some people think, since Germany are in form with three wins in a row and will be confident of taking another step forwards. As for Spain, this is familiar territory - as is making the last four and of course, lifting the coveted silverware.
Head To Head: In the 11 previous meetings between the teams, Spain have won eight, while Germany have won three times.
Key matchup: What a matchup it could be between Marie Guelich, who has been Germany's top performer, and Raquel Carrera of Spain, who is her teammate at Valencia Basket. They must have went up against each other hundreds of times before in practices but nothing will be like this. Whoever comes out on top could have a major bearing on the outcome. Plus, Guelich might just be giving the inside track to Germany head coach Lisa Thomaidis since there are several more Valencia players on the Spanish roster.
X-Factor: This is a big test for Germany not only because of the respective standing in world basketball of Spain, but from a basketball standpoint on the court, can they keep pace with the opposing guards? The energy and intensity of the backcourt will be probably much tougher than they have faced so far. That might be a big factor since Germany are not exactly deep in the guard department.
Stats Don't Lie: As if to emphasize the point, Germany are the worst for turnovers of those teams still left in the competition with 18 per game while Spain look after the ball best with just over 8 per outing.