|Francesca Dotto and her sister Caterina's in-your-face defence will be a key variable in the outcome of the first quarter-final|
The elimination rounds are upon us at the U20 European Championship Women in Samsun. After the First and Second Rounds, four teams are sitting at 5-1 or better, but in a one-game scenario, anything can happen.
Quarter-Final One: Serbia vs. Italy
Serbia (4-2) left it until late in the last game to qualify, and now face the stingy defence of Italy (5-1) who enter the quarter-finals on a five-game winning streak, creating a match-up that, on paper, promises to be the best of all four games.
At the perimeter, the Dotto twins, Francesca and Caterina, will be looking to stop Serbia's playmaker and tournament assist leader Aleksandra Stanacev, while on the inside Alessandra Formica will battle it out with Ivana Brajkovic.
The Serbs depend a lot on their starters, none more so than do-it-all forward Natasa Kovacevic, an All-Tournament team candidate who will once again need to provide her wealthy contributions at both ends on the court. Italy will look to create turnovers and run the fast break, as no team has been as good as the Italians in that department so far.
Quarter-Final Two: France vs. Belarus
France (5-1) have the deepest team in the competition but could come into the match-up against Belarus (3-3) with something of a shaken confidence.
The French will have to bounce back from an ugly loss against the host nation who held them to 32 points, and proved France, indeed, can be stopped. It is questionable if Belarus can pull off such a defensive effort, especially for four quarters.
However, Belarus did push unbeaten Spain for more than 35 minutes in the Second Round, and showed plenty of character in bouncing back to beat Slovakia in a must-win situation on Wednesday, only hours after a dramatic loss to Greece.
Belarus will hope to get their inside-outside game going and fight for control on the glass through Maryia Papova, Maryna Ivashchanka and Hanna Kalenta, and see how far it takes them against a French team that has plenty of size inside, lots of speed on the perimeter, and is well-rested with no players averaging more than 24 minutes-per-game.
Quarter-Final Three: Spain vs. Russia
|Ksenia Tikhonenko and her battle with Spain's Astou Ndour will be the key match-up in the third quarter-final|
Following the jubilation of reaching the quarter-finals on Wednesday, Russia (2-4) now find themselves in the unenvious position of facing the hottest team at the tournament, two-time defending champions, Spain (6-0).
The reigning champs have dominated since the first day, thanks to the many weapons Head Coach Anna Caula Paretas has at her disposal. With the interior presence of Astou Ndour, the slashing and driving of Inmaculada Zanoguera, and the perimeter threats of Yurena Diaz and Elena De Alfredo, the Spanish team has won all six of their games with double-digit margins.
The Russian defence, however, will arguably be the toughest Spain has faced to this point in the tournament, and the match-up of arguably the two best centers in the competition in Spain's Ndour and Russia's Ksenia Tikhonenko, is a must-see.
Quarter-Final Four: Turkey vs. Slovak Republic
The host nation Turkey (5-1), who are coming off an impressive defensive performance against France, should be hands-on favourites when they face the Slovak Republic (3-3); a team that has had an up-and-down tournament, and barely snuck into the quarter-finals.
The Slovakians had a good start in Samsun, but they cooled off in the Second Round.
In all their losses, the Slovak Republic either led or were tied at halftime, but started the third quarter badly, allowing their opponents to run away from them.
The hosts, on the other hand, proved during this tournament, that they can win both in a runaway fashion, or in grind-it-out games. With guards Olcay Cakir, Ayse Cora and Pelin Bilgic leading the charge and applying the defensive pressure, Gizem Sezer and forward Özge Kavurmacioglu will look to dominate the boards. If they go on a big run, and with the home crowd as a sixth player on their side, Turkey will be hard to stop.