by Paul Nilsen
A superb cameo performance of 11 points off the bench from Ann Schyvens helped Belgium inflict a first defeat of the tournament on hosts Italy who were without influential center star Alessandra Formica.
Tthe outstanding Julie Vanloo contributed 22 points while Emma Meeseman claimed another stunning double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds in the 60-51 victory.
Schyvens meanwhile spoke after the game about her own contribution, including a buzzer beating triple to end the third as well as the strength in the Belgium team - now genuine medal contenders.
"It did something for us good as a team to hear that Allessandra Formica was not playing but even if she had been then we know that Emma |(Meesseman) would be ready for the challenge."
"The three-pointer gave us a big boost for the team. It came at just the right moment to give us energy for the last quarter."
"Even when you don't have a starting five role in this team and you are sitting on the bench, every single player is very important as we all still have a big role to play."
"We cheer from the bench and give a lot of encouragement but it is also possible that by coming onto court you have already seen some of the weaknesses of the opponent and where you need to make some assists."
"Today I managed to make some plays off the bench to add to the work of Emma and Julie (Vanloo) and that makes it difficult for teams to scout us because in any situation it could be any one of us."
"Next we have Serbia but although we beat them twice in preparations in Serbia means nothing. We do not go into the game taking them lightly and we will be well prepared."
Without the physical presence of Formica you felt pre-game that it would be very much advantage Belgium with nobody to truly match up inside with the irrepressible Emma Meesseman.
The true delight and anticipation however was the clash of the guards with both teams possessing some of the best players in the tournament so far.
However after the first quarter this assessment barely materialised with Italy using the kind of high tempo game that has characterised their tournament so far to nullify Belgiums perimeter shooters that had been dominant.
In fact Belgium were poor from the arc missing five attempts and with Coach Lucchesi perhaps going for a real double bluff by getting the ball inside, despite the loss of Formica, Italy held a 17-15 lead in what promised to be another classic game involving the hosts.
At 28-23 and heading into the dying stages of the half, Italy had a real edge despite not managing to get anything at all from outside - something they relied on heavily against Finland.
|Julie Vanloo applied all aspects of her all-around guard play in the surprise win against hosts Italy|
The last two minutes of action saw Belgium make a move to tie the game at 30-30. They scored 7 of the last 9 points including a three-pointer from Vanloo to ensure that both teams headed to the locker rooms with the game delicately poised and with fans eagerly awaiting the second half.
It was the Belgium contingent who were celebrating early in the third quarter rather than the excellent numbers of home fans. Julie Vanloo driving and pulling up for a sublime looking jump shot before then drilling a triple from the wing to put Belgium 37-30 ahead.
You sensed that Belgium looked poised to run away with the game when Lien Delmulle sunk another trey and the locals still found themselves seven points adrift at 41-34.
Vanloo was still lighting it up with another outrageously sweet jumper. Fans were then left with their jaws hanging when Vanloo received the ball in the corner closely guarded, an ended up ghosting past two players to drain her most gorgeous jump shot to date.
While a stunning few minutes on the floor, Coach Goethals withdrew his star player from the action and had a word in her ear. Rather than congratulatory he was maybe reminding her that as fantastic as it looks, there were some easier looks out there for her team-mates.
Not that the neutrals at the game or Belgium fans were complaining too much. It was great to watch. As Italy worked their way back at 45-41, they were undone by another great play by their opponent.
As the shot clock counted down, the ball found Ann Schyvens in the corner who finished the play by sinking a triple to finish the quarter on a real high.
Points were at a premium in the early part of the last period with Meesseman coming up with one huge block to not exactly help the Italian offensive problems. The same player then pulled down a huge offensive rebound on her way to a spin move that kept Belgium firmly in control.
The center then began to cruelly expose the absence of Italian muscle in the paint with another score under the basket as Belgium went into a double figure lead. By the midway point another big trey by Schyvens at just about killed off home resistance at 58-45.
Italy tried in vain to haul themselves back but Belgium had far too much control and quality with the ball in their hands to lose their heads and after a terrific team performance, the noisy Belgium fans gave the deserved reception on the final buzzer.