|26 August 2012|
Watch the Final of the U20 European Championship Women LIVE and for free on FIBA Europe TV, Sunday at 20:30 CET
|Queralt Casas is proud of Spain reaching another Final and promises she and her team-mates will give their all to win the gold medal|
By Paul Nilsen
She may have been crowned champion and tournament MVP at the U20 European Championship Women last summer, but Spanish star Queralt Casas has insisted this won't dilute the excitement of stepping out in this year's showpiece game as she signs off her extraordinary youth career in Debrecen.
Speaking after a roller-coaster Semi-Final against Turkey when Spain had to fight off a magnificent second-half fight-back from their opponent, Casas admitted to feeling relief but also pride at now being able to go for gold against Russia again - even if it is against a new-look Russian team.
"The Russian team is very much a different generation with different players and we need to do our preparation work," she said.
"We will obviously go to win because that is what we like to do when we reach Finals.
"Even though I have played in many Finals before, this really does feel like it is as special as the first one."
She continued: "We had a really great first-half against Turkey but in the second-half, we had more difficulties in scoring.
"It definitely wasn't because we relaxed too much, it's just sometimes these things happen in games.
"I think we again showed our quality and hard work at the end when we played the defence and made the baskets we needed.
"We are so happy and poud to be back in the Final again."
One interesting aspect of the Semi-Final and something which bodes well for a third successive Final match-up with Russia, is that the frontcourt finally overshadowed the play of the backcourt, something which has rarely been the case during the tournament.
Both Laura Gil and Inmaculada Zanoguera came up with big performances and this is likely to give them the extra confidence needed in the all-important task since of trying to shut down Ksenia Tikhonenko in the paint.
The Russian center, who is a big favourite to land a spot in the All-Tournament Team after averaging a double-double of 12 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, carries the main threat for her team and Spain surely must limit her influence on the glass.
She grabbed 17 rebounds during the Semi-Final against the Netherlands and alongside team-mate Ekaterina Fedorenkova, the duo were both in floods of tears when the final buzzer sounded.
Indeed several minutes after the game was over, Fedorenkova could barely pick herself up off the floor such was her relief and outpouring of emotion.
Much of that was, according to Tikhonenko, due to the pressure the players were feeling trying to carry on the truly great tradition Russia has in the competition where often success is so commonplace that sometimes so-called 'failed generations' are remembered most - only not for the right reason.
"We love playing for our country so much and we are just really happy and relieved we have got a medal because we know Russia is a nation that expects success - and we have met this expectation," smiled Tikhonenko.
As Fedorenkova was finally hauled up from the Arena floor by Tikhonenko, the guard spoke of the spirit which has got Russia through some turbulent and challenging moments during the competition.
"I am so, so happy and emotional that we have reached the Final because it hasn't been easy for us," explained Federenkova.
"But, we have such a good feeling within the team and this has been the most important thing for us."
There may be a strong sense of déjà vu when these two powerhouses of the youth game go head-to-head yet again but it genuinely does feel like a clash of the titans and one that will set pulses racing for those present in Fonix Hall.
Russia has become a new team in the last couple of games, cutting out the ridiculously poor ball handling which had marred their tournament during the early stages. Their new frugality with the ball in their hands will however be seriously placed under the microscope by the Spanish defence who is likely to press - and press hard.
As for Spain, that's two successive games they have had to win in crunch time, could it be third time unlucky? Certainly Russia's plan will be to slow things down, make some outside shots and try to ensure another exciting finale.
It could and should prove the perfect ending to round-off this year's tournament.