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Few indicators ahead of #Turkey2014
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - Even though there are less than four weeks until the start of the FIBA World Championship for Women, there have been few revealing pointers from the various preparation programmes so far.
Spain remain favourites for Group A and have started their competitive pre-tournament programme relatively late (in terms of games) and we will see how they fare in this week's Murcia tournament. There were no surprises in their roster and I am interested to see if head coach Lucas Mondelo will take one new face. Someone like Leticia Romero for example, who will probably replace Laia Palau in coming years and share time with Silvia Dominguez.
Japan have had a generally solid preparation with plenty of games and success against the likes of Czech Republic who they will play in Ankara. The re-integration of Taki Makada is a big positive, but the loss of playmaker Asami Yoshida remains a major issue.
Brazil have endured a mixed bag during preparation, finally beating Canada at the Zafer Cup after previous losses to their Americas rivals, but losing heavily to France in Limoges. The big positive is that they have three WNBA players to still welcome to the party.
Group B will see hosts Turkey full of confidence after their Zafer Cup triumph and while they did lose a game afterwards, it was an experimental team without most of their big hitters. The positive is Nevriye Yilmaz getting hot at the right time, but the big question remains whether they go with Lara Sanders or Quanitra Hollingsworth in the naturalised spot.
France surprised me by cutting Olivia Epoupa and Valeriane Ayayi since they had spoken about building for the future and surely you would think both of them would have been central to this. Les Bleus can be buoyed by Helena Ciak looking like she could do the business in the paint and they still have the class of Celine Dumerc and Sandrine Gruda to add.
Canada have lost some tight games and it perhaps a lack of firepower could be their Achilles heel. They are never going to blow teams away, but their win against the Opals in the Zafer Cup showed that Turkey and France should be concerned.
Mozambique meanwhile have fallen to some large losses and will remain the big underdogs in Ankara.
Australia were on a seven- or eight-game winning streak, but lost to Canada and Turkey in the Zafer Cup. Still the form of Marianna Tolo, new addition Leilani Mitchell and the fact they have had Liz Cambage with them for several months is great news. Now all eyes will be on Penny Taylor, but the news of Lauren Jackson losing her race to regain full fitness is a real blow to their medal hopes.
Belarus have had a light programme of preparation to say the least, but are currently playing in Turkey having lost twice to Australia last month in Minsk. The absence of kingpin Anastasia Verameyenka and the veteran Marina Kress remains damaging.
Cuba are something of an unknown quantity other than being dominant in their own zone. They are of course the FIBA Americas champs and recently won Centrobasket Women too. They have hardly played anybody during preparation, but all of their kingpins are lined up for Istanbul.
Lastly in Group D, the USA are only just going into camp but with their glittering array of talent, it’s hardly a concern. Bria Hartley and Chiney Ogwumike were added to the mix and no matter what happens in prep, they are nailed on podium-toppers.
Serbia have been hit and miss during preparation, but have had everyone bar Jelena Milovanovic in their line-up and have looked particularly productive offensively. Angola were trashed by Brazil and France last week and look set to struggle even after a U-turn over their previously dumped big name players.
China have probably played as many, if not more games than anyone else and have been making positive strides according to the wily Tom Maher. They have played against opposition from around the globe and could never be accused of being undercooked when they arrive in Turkey. But they still don't have a Lijie Miao kind of star in their ranks and so expectations will have to be tempered.
We will know much more about all teams in a week or two!
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