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|Serbia point guard Aleksandra Stanacev is the conductor of the Serbian orchestra in Bucharest and Russia's primary aim in the semi-final will be to contain her |
By Paul Nilsen
Serbia head coach Zoran Kovacic is warning his players they face a quality team when they match-up with Russia in the first semi-final of the U18 European Championship Women.
Having arguably racked up the most impressive result of the tournament so far, with a satisfying 64-60 success against podium favourites Spain in the quarter-finals, the play-caller is adamant his team will be just as prepared and even more determined for this game.
"I think we do have a lot of quality," insisted Kovacic.
"Even though we lost a couple of games in this tournament, they were only by a few points and it was just because of a lack of concentration.
"We showed against Spain that we not only have quality, but also the heart to take a medal.
"Russia is essentially a champion team," is the Serbian coach's verdict on their semi-final opponents.
"They have many players who managed to win a gold medal two years ago, at the U16 European Championship Women.
"Even if they have not played at their best during this tournament, they have still made the semi-finals and that shows how much depth and quality they have."
Having reached the last four, it's a case of one mission complete for Serbia but the next remains the most important.
"Our dream of winning a medal is very much alive but in truth we only had two aims when we came to Bucharest," explained Kovacic.
"The first was to qualify for the FIBA U19 World Championship next summer but the most important is still to reach the final."
Whether they can do so or not will largely depend on the respective contributions of a key duo, point guard Aleksandra Stanacev and center Dragana Stankovic.
But, it was particularly encouraging for Serbia that against Spain during the quarter-finals, they reminded everyone they do have depth and when these two players aren't necessarily on form, others can step up.
As for Russia, they are all about depth. Arguably without any true stand-out stars, they rely on a deep rolling roster which helps to wear teams down.
Forward duo Albina Razheva and Alexandra Marchenkova may beg to differ and for sure they are the most likely game winners but, it's usually a true team effort from Russia which makes the biggest difference.
The key to the game could be how well Russia looks after the ball.
It sounds hard to believe but despite reaching the last four of the competition, only relegated Romania has more turnovers in the tournament and that's something which could well catch up and bite this Russian team if they are not more careful.