Procuring a spot at the London 2012 Olympics provided a huge boost for Great Britain’s basketballing self-esteem.

The berth at the Games, though historic, was secured for both the men’s and women’s national teams following a pretence of politicking and debate within a conference room at an impressive hotel in Lyon.

Snaring a place at Tokyo 2020 for GB’s Women will not involve words, but actual deeds.

“That would be so much more of a bigger deal,” Rachael Vanderwal declared. Tougher, probably, still.

Three games in four days in Belgrade will determine whether the stock of British basketball is elevated to new heights in a two-fingered salute to the netball-infested establishment who wrote hoops off as the sporting equivalent of belligerent stray dog.

The Olympic qualification tournament, switched to the Serb capital from the Chinese city of Foshan, brings Chema Buceta’s side back to the scene of their finest hour to date following their magical run to the semi-finals of last summer’s FIBA Women’s EuroBasket.

Four teams. Three golden tickets to Japan next August.

And GB’s odds have certainly been pruned by the re-direction of the event from Asia to their own backyard, providing an extra two days of preparation than would have been possible with a long-haul jaunt.

China is up first on Thursday. Then what looks potentially like the pivotal contest against South Korea on Saturday. Finally, a daunting reunion with Spain on Sunday.

Here’s a look at their group and the other three.

(Belgrade – 3 Olympic places) China, South Korea, Spain, Great Britain

Route here: 1st, Asia/Oceania pre-qualifier
Coach: Xu Limin
Player to Watch: Li Yueru

Prospects: Not missed an Olympics since 2000 but a shock loss to the Koreans so nearly proved costly in pre-qualification. As ever, China have been preparing extensively and sixth place at the 2018 World Cup underlined their talent. Even so, losing home advantage hurts and they are fallible.

South Korea
Route here: 2nd, Asia/Oceania pre-qualifier
Coach: Lee Moon-kyu
Player to Watch: Kang Lee-Seul

Prospects: Hunting a first Olympic place since 2008, the Koreans surprisingly ousted hosts New Zealand to survive the opening stage. The lengthy travel won’t help them but they’ll believe progress is possible.

Route here: Winner, EuroBasket 2019
Coach: Lucas Mondelo
Player to Watch: Alba Torrens

Prospects: Certainly the favourites, despite the absence of Astou Ndour and Anna Cruz due to injury. But Torrens is back in red and their army of veterans should cope with the pressure of moving on to Tokyo and the opportunity to emulate their silver from Rio 2016.

Great Britain
Route here: 4th, EuroBasket 2019
Coach: Chema Buceta
Player to Watch: Temi Fagbenle

Prospects: There’ll never be a better chance for GB to do the once-unthinkable with a mix of the 2012 generation and some younger guns and a coach in whom all believe. Last summer’s run to the Euro semis was the accumulation of a decade of steady build and a startling chemistry in unison, driven by the relentless will of Jo Leedham and the towering totem of Fagbenle. More than the sum of their parts, making the Games will still likely come down to defeating Korea. But the Brits believe – and they have every right to do so.


(Belgrade – 2 places ) Nigeria, USA, Serbia, Mozambique

 Prospects: With the USA already qualified for Tokyo as World Cup winners, there are two Olympic places on offer in the other Belgrade pool. The Americans will utilise this as another primer for their gold defence while Serbia should have no doubts they can flourish in front of their own fans despite coming third at EuroBasket 2019 on home soil. Nigeria beat Mozambique 57-48 at the Africa pre-qualifiers. They’ll anticipate a repeat.


(Bourges – 3 places) France, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Australia

Prospects: As hosts, Les Bleues will count on their tournament pedigree to carry them safely through with Marine Johannes coming into her own and into her prime. It is imperative the French advance with Paris 2024 on the horizon after Tokyo. Australia, ever Olympic medal contenders, transport the irresistible force that is Liz Cambage and strength in depth. The Opals should top this quartet. Brazil and Puerto Rico each had 2-1 records at the pre-qualifiers but the Brazilians did thrash PR for third place at last year’s AmeriCup. 


(Ostend – 2 places) Canada, Japan, Sweden, Belgium

Prospects: Japan’s guarantee of a spot at their own Olympics means it’s a bunfight for two spots out of three – with their trio of rivals here all courting genuine aspiration. Belgium, as the home side and emergent force in Europe of recent years, bring the reigning WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman and a vibrant roster. Canada have pedigree but a history of ho-hum tournament play. The Swedes, who have never previously reached an Olympic or world finals, underlined their upward trajectory with fifth at EuroBasket 2019, knocking out Russia from Tokyo contention. They fully merit this shot.

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