|25 July 2012|
|Spain's Marles Balart is a EuroLeague Women champion with Ros Casares |
On paper at least, there could hardly be a more difficult group at any women's European youth championship this summer than one that pitches Sweden, Poland, Spain and France together.
These are four teams that achieved a top-six finish last summer at this level and with some retaining a healthy number of players from last year, and others welcoming younger talent, it means they could be challenging for one of the top spots once again.
France were dismantled last time out in the 2011 final by Belgium but their silver medal was well deserved.
They are the one team for whom this summer will see an almost entirely new line-up, aside from lightning-quick playmaker Olivia Epoupa.
The bulk of the team who finished in seventh spot at last year's U16 European Championship Women are all moving up.
Spain probably could, and should have won gold last summer, but were beaten in a heart-breaking semi-final, 63-65, by the eventual champions.
The stellar talented Astou Ndour recently underwent meniscus surgery and will be unavailbale but EuroLeague Women champion (with Ros Casares) Marles Balart will return, to propel the team towards at least another podium finish this summer.
The Spanish roster also features the core of the team who won gold last summer at the U16 European Championship Women in Cagliari, with Leticia Romero and Maria Arrojo two players to certainly keep a close eye on.
Sweden and Spain locked horns in the bronze medal game last summer and the two nations will clash again early on.
In 2011 however, Sweden relied almost exclusively on 1993-born players and so they won't have many who can be driven on by revenge and their disappointment of missing out on a medal returning in Bucharest.
The Swedes will probably rely on the likes of versatile guard Gabriella Hanson to provide the ammunition to shoot them to success this time.
Poland have reason for concern, in that their 1995-born players were involved in relegation from Division A at the U16 European Championship Women last summer.
None the less they are boosted immeasurably by the return of more 1994-born players than any other team in the group.
The hugely important Dominika Owczarzak, a point guard who impressed so much in Oradea last year, belongs in this company.