Part Two of the preview of the Great Britain women’s schedule this summer.
GB v Czech Republic – Prague, 19 & 20 June
This will be a hugely difficult couple of games since Czech Republic are most definitely a world power. Indeed they won the silver medal as hosts of the FIBA World Championship in 2010 and made the semi-finals of EuroBasket Women last summer, missing out the final and third place after losing to France in the bronze medal game. In Eve Viteckova they have a true European great, a dangerous scorer with a superb three-point shot. Alongside her is poster girl Katerina Elhotova, the young gun who is also a real threat from downtown.
In addition to his strong backcourt and wings, Coach Blazek also has a powerful frontcourt too. The shooters can always feel comfortable in tasking a shot since the team is able to rebound so proficiently with a string of powerful forwards and centers who crash the boards really well including the likes of EuroLeague Women players Jana Vesela and Ilona Burgrova although the latter is a serious doubt after sustaining a serious ankle injury a month ago.
Crucially, this will almost be the final warm-up games for the Czechs who will head to Ankara and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament to try to take one of the last five remaining places for the London Games. That could mean they are ahead of Great Britain in terms of physical and mental intensity.
Four Team Tournament – China, July 2-4
Great Britain will raise their profile both on and off the court with an important trip to the Far East where they will lock horns against their Chinese hosts, African champions Angola and renew their new found intense rivalry with Russia. What is important to note is that with the Olympic Qualifying Tournament wrapping up in Ankara, it is from this point onwards that GB Women only face (with the exception of France) Olympic rivals who qualified and booked their spot last year.
The game I would absolutely love to be at is the one against Russia when the bad blood that oozed threw their rough and tumble tussle in Poland last summer will have a chance to boil once again. It was hideously ugly but one of the most fascinating and gripping games I have seen at a major tournament.
GB got right under the skin of Russia, not only their players who didn’t appreciate the aggressive style of GB but also head coach Boris Sokolovsky who had a sizeable spat with Maher in the post-game press conference.
He was perhaps trying to deflect attention away from a shoddy performance by his own team and a wild elbow by Ilona Korstin which led to her being ejected but his comments about GB making it into an ice-hockey game. Not surprisingly Maher was fuming and it was the most entertaining and intense stand-off at a press-conference I have attended. However importantly, both coaches have great respect for each other despite their war of words and of course Russia went on to coast to the gold medal and be crowned EuroBasket Women champions.
Russia has a string of veteran players on the wings and in the frontcourt including Korstin, Irina Osipova, Svetlana Abrosimova and of course the legendary Maria Stepanova. They can also call on the services of the graceful and unflappable Elena Danilochkina. She’s the reigning EuroBasket Women MVP who lives up to her moniker of ‘Golden Hand’ and can certainly shoot.
Angola caused quite a surprise when they managed to finish on top of the podium at the FIBA Africa Championship last summer and book a historic place at their first Olympics in addition to their first continental gold medal. They did a super job, firstly knocking out hosts Mali in the semi-finals and then despatching red-hot favourites Senegal in the final despite their opponent having comfortably beaten them during the initial phase of the competition.
China meanwhile shouldn’t be underestimated as the reigning FIBA Asia Champions and especially not with the legendary Lijie Miao who has been the star of women’s basketball in China for 14 years while also fleetingly tasting court time in the WNBA too.
GB v Angola – Sheffield, 13 July
The African champions get a quick re-match against GB in Sheffield and British fans will get to see the skills of the FIBA Africa Championship MVP ‘Nachi’. For Nacessela Mauricio provided the main thrust for their success last summer and she is worth checking out. Angola lack some depth but do have a number of interesting players including Sonia Guadalupe who was also a big factor in reaching the top of the podium. GB will fancy their chances of a victory but African teams should never be under-estimated.
GB v Australia – Sheffield, 14 July
Always chasing down USA hard, Australia are generally accepted as being the second best women’s team in the world – despite an arguably below par display at their last major tournament which was the FIBA World Championship Women in Czech Republic two years ago. Always the Olympic bridesmaid and never the bride, it’s probably the final time this gifted generation will all play together at their peak.
Hence many neutrals will be cheering on the stellar talented duo of Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor to drive the Opals to gold this time – but they have their work cut out against the incredible depth of the USA. Still, with Liz Cambage one of the best emerging players in the world and great pro’s who provide the glue for the team in the likes of Belinda Snell, they have every chance and Great Britain will do well to keep within 10-20 points of them.
GB v France – Sheffield, 15 July
The EuroBasket Women bronze medallists will provide another really stern test and especially if, as expected, Pierre Vincent has managed to ensure his team have punched their ticket for London by way of securing one of the five berths available in Ankara. If they don’t it will be surprise although France have had a real problem with the Olympics and qualification in the last decade or so which has been in stark contrast to their (relative) success at other major tournaments. Le Bleus are a great side with a bona-fide world class player in point guard Celine Dumerc and also real power and quality in the paint with the likes of Isabelle Yacoubou and Emmeline Ndongue who will realty give the GB frontcourt an exceptionally hard work out.
GB v USA – Manchester, 18 July
There can be little doubt GB have saved the best until last when they will somehow try to compete with the USA Dream Team. Every bit as talented as their male equivalents, the USA Women are dripping with talent in every area and probably possess something like 60% of the best 20 female players in the world on their roster. From the incredible force of Diana Taurasi to Sue Bird, Seimone Augustus, Candice Dupree, Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry – the list is just endless.
This team is nailed-on for yet another Olympic gold this year and perhaps only Australia are likely to be able to deny them or maybe Russia but it looks like theirs to lose. Aside from the Olympic tournament itself (during which GB might not play USA), you are never likely to have a better chance of seeing a women’s basketball team on UK shores with this much talent. Just reading the star names on their roster is genuinely amazing!
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