EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFIERS
Qualification Round Group E features two EuroBasket Women regulars in the last editions in Latvia and Greece, a historical great in Italy, an ambitious Finland and outsiders Luxemburg.
By Paul Nilsen
|Taru Tuukkanen led Finland in points and rebounds in last summer's unsuccesful qualifying campaign |
A quick glance at their previous qualification record and you will be forgiven for thinking Finland are real underdogs and can only realistically target Luxembourg for wins. Peel back the outer layer and explore the situation in more depth though and you will see things could have been so different had they not lost a bunch of tight games. Led by their inspirational veteran Taru Tuukkanen, they look like they could have a lot of new and fresh faces which new play-caller Anton Mirolybov will have to get playing together. In fact, in the preliminary roster of 17 players, an unbelievable 11 are aged 21 or younger. Finnish basketball is on the up after the incredible performance of the men's team at the EuroBasket in Lithuania last year and a good display by the women would be a real tonic and continue the momentum.
Key Player: Taru Tuukkanen
Exciting Talent: Krista Gross
Key Absence: Minna Sten
X-Factor: They lost so many close games last time, will they have learned from the experience?
In Just Six Words: Could be a real dark horse.
|With the likes of Maltsi and Kaltsidou unavailable, Greece point guard Dimitra Kalentzou is left with a heavy burden on her shoulders at the offensive end |
Having unexpectedly crashed out in the opening round at EuroBasket Women last summer, many felt it was time to bring in a new generation for an ageing Greece national team and that has been somewhat accelerated with news this week that former EuroBasket Women MVP Evina Maltsi won't participate this summer after all. This will come as a bitter blow for new head coach Alekos Daglas who has taken over as head coach from Kostas Missas. And especially since he will also be without the influential Stella Kaltsidou and Anna Spyridopoulou with both being ruled out with injuries. But, the medium to long term situation still looks unclear and while the likes of teenage forward Artemis Spanou continues to develop, there is perhaps a lack of depth in terms of young players to replace the still sizeable number of veterans on the team. However, when it comes to the short term objective of this summer and making it to France next year, all that matters is that Greece punch their ticket and they stand every chance in what looks to be a wide open group, even without their big hitters.
Key Player: Dimitra Kalentzou
Exciting Talent: Artemis Spanou
Key Absence: Evina Maltsi
X-Factor: Greece has lacked firepower in recent times and without Kaltsidou, Maltsi and Spyridopoulou, that will be even more of a problem. The level of their defence will be key since they will probably need to grind out the wins against Latvia and Italy in particular.
In Just Six Words: Weaker group dilutes impact of absences.
|A new-face Italy will need sharp-shooter Raffaella Masciadri to be at her best|
No team in Europe will undergo a greater transition this summer than Italy. After failing in the Additional Qualifying Round last year, missing out at EuroBasket Women proved a watershed for the Azzurre. Roberto Ricchini was installed as head coach and evidence of the dramatic revolution was that a paltry four players survived the changing of the guard. It would have been five but for the ACL injury sustained by the talented Chiara Consolini who will be missed. Gone are players like Angela Gianolla, Kathrin Ress, Laura Macchi, Jenifer Nadalin and Simona Ballardini and an exciting new team full of players from right around the Italian league have picked up the baton and head into the unknown. Well at least something of the unknown but there is every chance that with players drawn from one of the best domestic leagues in Europe, they have a shot at establishing themselves and succeeding in their mission. However the national team is another level altogether as Giorgia Sottana recently pointed out and watching Italy evolve should be one of the most fascinating aspects of the summer.
Key Player: Raffaella Masciadri
Exciting Talent: Giorgia Sottana
Key Absence: Chiara Consolini
X-Factor: Veteran star Masciadri failing to nail down a WNBA contract is very much to Italy's gain and the decision of New York Liberty may prove a blessing for this young team if she finds her shooting rhythm.
In Just Six Words: Must find their new identity quickly.
|Latvia are without a number of their stars for various reasons but at least their frontcourt remains formidable with the likes of Zane Tamane available|
Unfortunately for Latvian fans and new head coach Aigars Nerips, the build-up to this summer has been more about who won't be playing rather than who will. Having dealt reasonably successfully with the likes of the stellar Anete Jekabsone-Zogota not being present in previous qualification campaigns, it looks like a tough one this summer. Not only is their star name missing, but also influential guard Elina Babkina while Gunta Basko-Melnbarde and Ieva Kublina both decided to retire. Then, when Zane Tamane hit the WNBA trail at the start of the summer it looked pretty bleak. Thankfully for Latvia, they could have their former Fenerbahce center back in the line-up after Tamane was waived and returned home although an injury may prevent her from lining up initially. But, if she can bring some of her EuroLeague Women form from last season it would be invaluable to the team which still has some exciting young talent emerging.
Key Player: Zane Tamane
Exciting Talent: Kristine Vitola
Key Absence: Elina Babkina
X-Factor: There are a few vacancies for players to really make a big name for themselves both in the backcourt and the frontcourt. The unanswered question is whether a couple of players can really step up sufficiently to catapult them to France? They also need to look after the ball better than they did last summer and that won't be easy without Babkina on board.
In Just Six Words: Return of Tamane boosts prospects enormously.
|Nadia Mossong and the rest of Luxembourg internationals finally get this summer a historical chance to test themselves on the big stage|
No nation will take a bigger leap of faith this summer when it comes to testing their ability than Luxembourg. This tiny basketball nation always played in Division B in the old two-tier format but is now ready to go up against some of the giants and continue a long journey of improvement. They only recently began to win at Division B level so this qualification campaign will be a monumental challenge, but Luxembourg must have no fear factor. They only have a few pro-players in the likes of Tessy Hetting and Nadia Mossong but they also have great team chemistry and a super teenage talent in Lena Hetto. To compete is the first aim and you never know, they might end up slaying a giant!
Key Player: Nadia Mossong
Exciting Talent: Lena Hetto
Key Absence: None
X-Factor: They have to get the fundamentals right and can't afford to give themselves an even bigger mountain to climb by shooting 56% from the free-throw line like last year for example.
In Just Six Words: Minnows have absolutely nothing to lose