U18 WOMEN FINAL
Click to watch the Final of the U18 European Championship Women LIVE on FIBA Europe TV, Sunday at 18:45 CET
|France point guard Olivia Epoupa, who averages 4.5 assists per contest, had a very modest game against Russia in the Second Round clash which the French lost|
By Paul Nilsen
France head coach Jerome Fournier is adamant his team will be the underdogs when they go up against Russia in the Final of the U18 European Championship Women in Bucharest on Sunday.
He may have a point. For Russia has been the only team to inflict the taste of defeat on the French during the tournament, condemning Fournier and his players to a 68-58 defeat during the Second Round.
But, according to the play-caller, the history goes back a lot further than merely a few days.
"They (Russia) are a very good team and of course here in Bucharest we have lost against them," he said.
"But, we also lost twice against very much this same Russian team two years ago in Greece.
"It was at the U16 European Championship Women when they won the title and we finished in third position," recalled Fournier.
"Therefore I don't think we are the favourites at all. We are the outsiders because of this record.
"This is the end for us and I hope the girls will get extra motivation from losing to Russia three times in the past.
"Now would be the perfect time to get a win and of course the gold medal!"
Having had to ride the most amazing roller-coaster during the semi-final contest with the Dutch, Fournier was just relieved to emerge victorious, claiming the ability to apply defensive pressure in the latter stages of games was essential.
He said: "It was a very complicated game for us since I think the Netherlands played very well with clever defence.
"We couldn't find a solution to get the ball to our tall players under the basket.
"But at the end of the game, we were finally able to solve this problem and then apply enough pressure to our opponent.
"My team is one which is capable of applying defensive pressure to win any game."
|Alexandra Marchenkova, an all-round forward who does a little bit of everything on the floor, embodies the team spirit of Russia in this tournament |
Those watching France with a keen eye will still be a little perturbed at the willingness they have to put up a three-point attempt, something which often looks at odds with the option of their relatively stacked frontcourt.
But, even when they aren't firing on all cylinders and relying too heavily on a perimeter-based game, their defence is still able to win games.
The evidence to this is the fact they survived against the Netherlands after scoring a paltry 15 points across the middle two quarters.
This defence will have to contain a Russia team without one or two real headline names, but just a very strong rotation.
Russia have players that always hang tough whatever the situation and, as Fournier suggests, most know also what it feels like to finish top of the podium.
Coach Elena Shulzhenko can certainly mix up her team's offence and from that perspective, they are difficult to stop.
They are comfortable in transition, they move the ball well and generally make their shots.
Having effectively resolved their turnover issues against Serbia, their ball handlers will be put to the ultimate test against the lightening quick and energetic defence of Olivia Epoupa.
And, whether the guards can handle this pressure will go a long way to determining whether this Russian generation continues to have the upper hand over their rivals, by taking another gold medal.