Watch the second Semi-Final of the U20 European Championship Women LIVE and for free on FIBA Europe TV, Saturday at 20:30 CET
|Spain head coach Anna Caula expects her players to show the character of a champion, like they did in the Quarter-Final against France|
By Paul Nilsen
Reigning gold medallists Spain could so easily have been playing classification games instead of continuing the defence of their U20 European Championship Women title against Turkey in what is a truly a mouth-watering Semi-Final match-up.
For Spain had to hold their breath during their absorbing Quarter-Final against France when center Christelle Diallo launched from downtown in the last seconds, seeking to eliminate the defending champions.
Some are saying Spain rode their luck and it is difficult to disagree that they should never have placed their fate in the hands of their opponent.
Judging by the celebrations and palpable relief when Diallo missed, Spain knew they had dodged a bullet although perhaps they deserve the credit for executing their plan which was basically to avoid the dangerous Sara Chevaugeon from catching the ball.
Had she done so, the outcome may have been altogether more painful and head coach Anna Caula was relieved her team had overcome a difficult start and a complicated end to eventually emerge victorious.
"We played against a very physical team with very good players inside the paint and on the outside but we showed the character of a champion," insisted the play-caller.
"We had to show a strong mind to come back after the start we had and played with good organisation and especially on defence at the end of the game."
When Spain had scored eight successive points with only a handful of minutes remaining, it looked like they had sealed their spot but when Caula sat down the superb Mariona Ortiz, France pounced on their opportunity to get themselves back into the contest.
However the coach claimed she had little choice but to bench her star performer and it wasn't a premature acceptance of victory.
She said: "No, Mariona had played most of the game and we thought she maybe needed at least 30 seconds to rest before putting her back in the game, France just had some good ideas offensively at this moment."
Certainly it's easy to take a lot of confidence from the unflappable Caula when she speaks - and acts. Her calm but assured manner has been a real feature of Spain's mission to grab back-to-back gold medals.
And, her assessment of Semi-Final opponent Turkey was beautifully simple: "Turkey has a had a very good tournament and they have some very good players," she stated.
Spain must now of course inflict a first taste of defeat on Turkey who have won every game in Debrecen so far to make it to the final four.
In order to do so, the play of Ortiz will again be instrumental - as will the contribution of Queralt Casas who inspired her team to the top of the podium last summer.
Casas is having a nightmare from behind the three-point line but continues to stamp her authority and extraordinary quality on just about every other facet of the game. If she can finally find her range from long-distance, Turkey could be in big trouble.
However, Turkey will know that if they play to their maximum level, they can win this game. They must make smart decisions offensively since cheap turnovers and bad passes will be brutally punished by a Spanish team who loves to pounce on poor play and score in transition.
One of the most important elements will be how head coach Aziz Akayya lines up his back-court. He has four excellent options in Olcay Cakir, Pelin Bilgic, Merve Aydin and Ayse Cora. So, I expect he may be tempted to rotate this quartet and play a three guard line-up to try and handle the pressure Spain just loves to apply.
Make no mistake, this is a high quality match-up and definitely not one to miss.