Spain are looking to make history by qualifying for next year's Olympic Games with a win over Russia in Saturday night's European Championships semi-finals.
The Spaniards, unbeaten in this summer´s tournament, were nearly sent packing in the quarter-finals by Serbia & Montenegro but they eventually took the lead at the end of the third period and then completed a 76-74 triumph.
|Spanish Coach Vicente Rodriguez|
The Spanish women are now just a victory shy of a place in next year´s Athens Games.
"It is going to be an authentic chess game," said coach Vicente Rodriguez, who was as relieved as anyone his players were able to overcome a case of the jitters against the Serbo-Montenegrins, an extremely physical side who frustrated the Spaniards with an aggressive zone.
They expect more of the same against Russia, a team they beat in Group B.
"Russia are physically very superior but we have prepared a tactical arsenal in order to counter their physical power," he added.
Russia gave a lesson to defending champions France with a 79-66 victory, gaining revenge for their defeat to Le Bleues in France two years ago in the title game.
The struggle against Serbia & Montenegro continued a trend for Spain who though unbeaten have had to suffer in most of their wins.
A disappointing first half saw Spain trail the Yugoslavs by 10 points, but they produced a superb comeback when they finally got their defence in order and started hitting some three-pointers.
"In the game against Serbia & Montenegro we have seen what we are, a team capable of the best and the worst," said Spain hero Amaya Valdemoro, who was the highest scorer with 19 points but played possibly her worst game of the tournament.
"If the defence is good the attack is so much easier, that defence has been our key to victory."
Spain have never qualified for the Olympic Games, although they took part in Barcelona 1992 as the host nation.
A defeat to Russia will not rule Spain out of contention for a place in Athens next summer as they would still have a chance to play for the bronze medal.
Spain hope to match their triumph in 1993 when they took the country's first ever gold medal in the European Championships, beating France.
That great victory, however, didn´t qualify them for an Olympics as the Games were held three years later in Atlanta and the European Championships were held in 1995. Ukraine won that title and went to Atlanta.
Valdemoro and company know that a win against the likes of Elena Baranova and Ioulia Skopa, two of the stars in the win over France, will be no easy task.
"The game against Russia in the semi-final will be another story," she said. "We have achieved the most difficult thing already."
Spain, who beat Russia in the last game of the preliminary round to take the top spot in Group B, hope to repeat that performance.
"In the past few days we have been getting a lot of media attention and although we appreciate it, we are not accustomed to this," Valdemoro added.