By Jeff Taylor
Italy go into their EuroBasket Women opener against Russia looking to prove they fully deserve their place in the competition.
As hosts of the tournament, Gianni Lambruschi's team gained a place without having to go
|Coach Gianni Lambruschi believes his team can spring the upset.|
Drawn in Group C alongside them are Russia, Greece and France with the Azzurre outsiders - even with the fervent home support behind them.
"We have a very challenging group, " said Lambruschi. "But we can't wait for the tournament to begin. We are convinced that once we start the tournament, our adrenalin levels will give us a morale boost to grow our ambition."
Russia will be formidable opponents.
They won the EuroBasket Women four years ago and finished runners-up to the Czech Republic in Turkey in 2005.
Last year, Igor Grudin's side captured the silver medal at the FIBA World Championship after upsetting Team USA in the semi-finals.
They enter this tournament as favourites to win the gold medal.
Key match-up: Laura Macchi v Olga Arteshina. Italy’s Macchi has been one of the best Italian performers offensively this summer in their preparations while Arteshina is lethal from long range. To prevent the Azzurre from collapsing on Russia's twin towers Maria Stepanova and Irina Osipova, Arteshina will need to be one of the team's zone-busters.
X-factor: Francesca Zara was a team-mate of several Russian internationals at Spartak Moscow region last season and faced the others in the Superleague Women. That familiarity could be a big plus for Lambruschi's side as they look for an edge.
Key Stat: The Italians must shoot around 40% from three-point range and 50% inside the arc to have a realistic chance of upsetting one of the true basketball superpowers.
Speaking out: "We are ready for Russia, they are one of the favourites to win the title but they shouldn't underestimate us" - Lambruschi.