YUZHNE (EuroBasket Women 2013) - Oleksandra Kurasova is still trying to find a sense of calm after propelling Ukraine back to the Final Round in a nerve-shredding and absorbing finale to EuroBasket Women qualification.
Unsurprisingly, there were scenes of unbridled joy in Yuzhne as Ukraine, who missed out in 2011, emerged from the most difficult of all the groups to seal their place in France next summer with a pivotal last day win over a crestfallen Hungary.
Still waiting for the accomplishment to sink in a little further, Kurasova paid tribute to the team spirit and camaraderie which somehow got unfancied Ukraine through the toughest possible test.
“I hope that next year we will gather the same team which is so friendly both on the court and in life," she said.
“We are very happy now since for two months we have trained and played so hard.
“The main thing was that everything depended on us, not on any of our opponents and I think in the future it will be better that we don’t leave the question of whether we make a Championship until the very last game.”
“There were so many nerves for me in this crucial fight that even my eyebrows have probably turned grey,” laughed a relieved Kurasova.
The last remaining spot for the Final Round went to Serbia who did a superb job in shrugging off the absence of the hugely influential Sonja Petrovic and the limited involvement of their usual driving force Jelena Milovanovic to advance.
The other teams who emerged from an intense qualification campaign includes Belarus, who prevailed under the guidance of new head coach Rimantas Grigas and yet without kingpin Yelena Leuchanka, while Italy unveiled a new-look and youthful line-up to great success - suggesting bright things lie in wait.
Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania also punched their tickets to reach a fifth consecutive Final Round tournament whilst Slovak Republic made it three in a row.
Montenegro were the history makers last year when they reached their first-ever major tournament and they secured back-to-back Final Round appearances, no doubt hoping to make the same kind of splash as they did on their debut in Poland in 2011.
Spain and Sweden went up against each during qualification and while both secured a spot, the younger Swedish team led primarily by Frida Eldebrink and Louice Halvarsson certainly gave the veteran laden Spanish plenty to ponder by completing a memorable double over their rivals.
Hosts France and Olympic participants Croatia, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Russia, and Turkey complete the line-up.
The Final Round of EuroBasket Women 2013 will take place from 15-30 June in the French cities of Lille, Orchies, Trelaze, Vannes and Vendespace.
On 21 September, the 16 qualified teams will find out who their opponents will be when the draw takes place in Paris.