EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFIERS
|'The defeat in Israel was an unpleasant surprise,' says Ukraine's Olena Zherzherunova, who hopes her team will not repeat the same mistakes in Saturday's home game against Belarus |
By Paul Nilsen
When Ukraine returns to action this weekend in the EuroBasket Women Qualification Round, only Olena Zherzherunova can explain to her team-mates what it feels like to step out against Belarus.
Surprisingly, the teams have only met once previously, with the veteran the only survivor to still be wearing a national team vest since that original match-up way back in 1998.
But, this second clash between the two nations could barely hold more importance.
A highly competitive Group A was always destined to be a dogfight and Ukraine are already under some serious early pressure to avoid falling behind in the race to finish in the top two spots.
Currently sat with one win and one defeat, the difference between a victory and a loss when they face their unbeaten opponent this weekend is likely to be hugely significant.
Last time out, Vadim Czeczuro's side were soundly beaten in Israel and Zherzherunova knows they will need to focus and play hard if they want to get back to winning ways against the table-topping Belarus.
"Ahead of the game with Belarus, we have been preparing very seriously, because the contest with the Israeli team was an unpleasant surprise for us," Zherzherunova said.
"Some of the flaws in our game surfaced against Israel and therefore we must rehabilitate ourselves in the home matches to show that the defeat of Israel was just a regrettable accident for us.
"Belarus should be called the favourite of the group," the forward admitted.
"However, we believe our group and the teams are fairly level with the exception of Portugal which is considerably weaker than our other opponents."
This sentiment was echoed by coach Czeczuro, who praised the form of Belarus who have raced to the top of the group with three impressive victories.
"Of course, Belarus is a strong team who took part in the EuroBasket Women last year and we have to play against their game, in which they do not commit many errors and are very aggressive in defence," explained the play-caller.
"Belarus is a strong, competent team and their girls have performed together for many years.
"However, we play at home and so we believe in a positive outcome."
He added: "I think being the losing team in Israel will be an impetus for us to show our best game in this next match because in Israel, we played a little below our capabilities.
"We will try not to repeat the mistakes which we made in this previous game."