EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFIERS
Lithuania, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia will battle it out for the top two spots in Qualification Round Group C, that lead to EuroBasket Women 2013.
The Baltic side and Slovakia are the only two teams in this pool that had qualified for EuroBasket Women 2011, but they are by no means guaranteed the top two places in a group that can take many unpredictable turns, as Paul Nilsen explains.
|Young Women's Player of the Year Emma Meesseman is the most prominent of Belgium's many young talents that will find plenty of playing time this summer|
The Belgian cats have every reason to be confident despite missing two of their star names in Ann Wauters and Kathy Wambe. The reason for their confidence is that former EuroLeague Women winner Anke De Mondt is back on board and she brings a genuine three-point threat as well as good experience. Throw in the fact that they not only have FIBA Europe Young Women's Player Of The Year Emma Meesseman but an array of other exciting young players and you have to think they have a really nice blend. They failed to qualify last year and while there is some logic to suggest a struggle, because of losing their two top scorers from a previous failed campaign, the young players are a year older now and this could be important. They should have little to fear despite it being a potentially fiercely competitive group although a worrying ankle injury to De Mondt could prove decisive.
Key Player: Anke De Mondt
Exciting Talent: Emma Meesseman
Key Absence: Kathy Wambe
X-Factor: Will they be mentally strong enough and who is going to step up to replace the rebounding of Wauters, assists of Wambe and combined scoring prowess?
In Just Six Words: Must soon realise talent and potential.
|Been there, done that - Lithuania and Sandra Linkeviciene cannot imagine missing out on EuroBasket Women 2013|
Last summer at the EuroBasket Women in Poland, Lithuania reached the latter stages but couldn't find the fifth-place finish they needed to keep their Olympic dreams alive. Consequently they must do the hard work again to reach France next year, although it is exciting for fans of women's basketball in Lithuania with an entire new generation of interesting young players about to be fully incorporated in coming years. It would be a surprise if they were edged out of the top two spots in this qualifying campaign as they have lots of talent and are a leading nation. The last few years have really seen women's basketball in Lithuania gather some momentum and in this basketball-obsessed nation, failure to punch their ticket for France is unthinkable. They've lost a few experienced players but if they retain focus and play anywhere near to their potential, they will probably lead the way.
Key Player: Sandra Linkeviciene
Exciting Talent: Marina Solopova
Key Absence: Ausra Bimbaite
X-Factor: They were far too turnover-prone last year and if they look after the ball better they will be even tougher to beat.
In Just Six Words: Group favourite status is no guarantee.
|One can expect to see a lioness on the court when Leonie Kooij pulls on the Netherlands jersey|
Those quick to label the Netherlands as underdogs in this group shouldn't jump to conclusions. After all, during their last qualification campaign they harvested some memorable wins against Belgium, Croatia, Finland and Ukraine. They won two of their three games on home soil and it could prove to be a very tricky place for their Group E opponents to visit. Leonie Kooij is phenomenal in a national team vest, a do-it-all forward, although crucially the team showed they could get wins without her last summer during the Additional Qualifying Tournament last summer. The Netherlands lack depth, they have few players who play their club basketball on the biggest stage but they have great chemistry and team spirit. They also have some very interesting young players coming through too and won't be pushovers. The loss of veteran center Marlous Nieuwveen who was the main rebounding presence could prove a void they can't fill.
Key Player: Leonie Kooij
Exciting Talent: Marlou De Kleijn
Key Absence: Marlous Nieuwveen
X-Factor: The Netherlands had a nice knack of winning tight games last time and this will need to continue.
In Just Six Words: Few star names but very dangerous.
|Slovakia are a bit short on guards, but Lucia Kupcikova and the rest of their frontline players guarantee quality inside|
Of all the teams in the group, the Slovak Republic has been hit hardest by withdrawals, uncertainty and a lack of continuity. Due to some funding issues, the preparation was confirmed much later than they would have liked with new head coach Ivan Vojtko having to show high levels of patience after succeeding Natalia Hejkova. A number of influential and experienced players will not be at his disposal, including the classy Zuzana Zirkova who had hoped to make a long awaited return from injury but then retired and Erin Lawless who has claimed she urgently needs rest after a gruelling few years. At least Vojtko still has plenty to work with, including the guard play of Ivana Jalcova and the reliability of Lucia Kupcikova, Romana Vynuchalova and Katarina Tetemondova in the frontcourt. Not only did the Slovak Republic participate in Poland last summer but they also beat Lithuania and that will be food for thought for their opponents and the group favourites.
Key Player: Lucia Kupcikova
Exciting Talent: Klaudia Lukacovicova
Key Absence: Zuzana Zirkova
X Factor: The roster looks short of scoring in the backcourt and the guards will have to excel to attain success.
In Just Six Words: The most difficult team to predict.
|Slovenia, a former Division B team, have no less than five EuroLeague Women players on their roster, with Nika Baric leading the charge|
Having competed in the now abolished Division B, the recent restructuring of women's basketball hands a sizeable opportunity to an emerging Slovenian team not just to compete against elite nations by stepping up, but to actually spring something of a surprise. Booking one of the top two spots in the group is not beyond them since they have no fewer than five players with Euroleague Women experience. In fact, they have considerable EuroLeague Women experience in comparison to some of their rivals and that could be decisive. Maja Erkic is an effective shooter and scorer, 2010 FIBA Europe Young Women's Player Of The Year Nika Baric continues to flourish as a playmaker and can be a driving force for her country, Sandra Pirsic is a good defensive presence while Eva Komplet and Martina Dover were excellent last time out in Division B.
Key Player: Maja Erkic
Exciting Talent: Nika Baric
Key Absence: None
X-Factor: They have a decent core of players but will they have the depth coming off the bench?
In Just Six Words: Must avoid injuries to starting five.