The GB Women’s pre-Olympic schedule was released last week and it made for interesting reading. Here’s what Tom Maher’s side can expect during the opening half of their programme.

GB v Croatia – Croatia 28 & 29 May

After the obligatory preparation camp, GB will head to Croatia to face Stipe Bralic and his team who performed near miracles at EuroBasket Women last summer to defy all expectations and also a horrendous injury crisis to finish in fifth spot. Consequently Croatia could be meeting up with GB again in London if they emerge victorious from the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara.

Both teams should be pretty well matched although like in most games GB play, we will still be considered as the underdogs. Sandra Mandir is an exciting player for the Croatians and she epitomized their spirit last summer when she made the All Tournament Team in Poland. They are actually really well equipped in the backcourt and in addition to Mandir there is the veteran experience of Andja Jelavic (a EuroCup Women finalist this year) and the exciting passing skills of Iva Ciglar who also did a super job to help her team in the latter stages in Lodz. All three are EuroLeague Women players past or present and with Ana Lelas always a big force on the wings, they will be a really tough proposition – especially since they will probably be more mentally in-tune since the serious stuff for them starts as early as June when they go to Turkey to try and book their spot for The Games.


Women’s four-team Tournament – Belgium 1- 3 June

Great Britain will lock horns with Ukraine, Germany and the hosts Belgium in what looks to be a very interesting tournament indeed. Both Ukraine and Belgium missed out on a place at EuroBasket Women last summer and if you remember, both Ukraine and Germany were in the same group as GB during qualification two summers ago.

Belgium has some absolutely terrific young players and I do feel they could be a real power in the future. Emma Meesseman in particular is sensational – only 18 years old but one of the top performers in EuroCup Women this season and already a star by way of her FIBA Europe Young Player Of The Year Award!

In stark contrast of course to the dearth of talented young players in the GB senior mix they could cause a surprise. In fact on that point, it would be nice to see more U20 players blooded by Coach Maher or whoever his successor is (should he leave after London) in the next 18 months or so.

Germany are an unpredictable team who a bit like Great Britain have managed to find a way of playing together without any real stellar talent, just some good players, team spirit and they have taken their opportunities. I think they might have liked a slightly better display in Poland last year since they lost their three games but they looked tired. Perhaps that wasn’t surprising since they had a long slog to get there – qualifying by way of the Additional Qualifying Round and a big shock win over the Italians. They are led by Anne Breitreiner and also have a pretty good player in 23 year old forward Svenja Greunke.

Ukraine has some pretty powerful players but they have been in disarray in the last couple of years. An enforced coaching change during 2010 ahead of that EuroBasket Women Qualifying campaign in the same group as GB didn’t help and they have used a staggering 19 players since then which shows how unsettled things have been. Injuries, absences, the last minute disruption caused by their change of coach and various other things have meant they will probably be looking forward to a more settled qualification this time around when they bid to qualify for EuroBasket Women 2013 in France.


GB v Canada – Edinburgh, 9-10 June

Playing Canada will be a nice match-up for Maher and his players since Canada are at a level which is broadly comparable although I actually think that GB are probably slightly better. Canada haven’t qualified for the Olympics in a long time but will try to do so again under the watchful eye of head coach Allison McNeil when they head to Ankara two weeks after this meeting in Scotland.

Just like Croatia, they will be fired up and ready to play, fine tuning everything as they bid to break their Olympic drought. They have a relatively young team and with players like Kalisha Keane beginning to show it at the elite level having played in EuroLeague Women for the first time with Gospic CO and also Lizanne Murphy doing a good job in the French League, they will be interesting opponents and well worth checking out.


GB v Turkey – Turkey 15 & 17 June

Turkey made history last summer when they took their first medal with a glorious silver having disposed of France in the semi-finals – one of my favourite women’s games of all-time and well worth checking out on youtube. If only to see Vardarli execute two of the best and most exciting back to back plays you will see down the stretch in any women’s game.

Turkey has the veteran centre Nevriye Yilmaz, recognized as one of the best pivots in Europe and she is very difficult to contain although we have to remember that GB did play Turkey and played them hard last summer in Bydgoszcz.

If there is one place in the world where women’s basketball is thriving then it’s Turkey. It is currently having a gravitational effect on the women’s game. Not only will the EuroLeague Women Final Four be played there next week which promises to be monumental with fierce rivals and star laden Fenerbahce and Galatasaray due to do battle but also the Additional Olympic Qualifying Tournament and then the FIBA World Championship Women in 2014.

As hosts in June, Turkey will of course also be strong favourites to make it to London by grabbing one of the last five remaining spots at the Additional Qualifying Tournament.


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