|22 August 2013|
|If Sweden have any chance of producing arguably the upset of the summer, it begins and ends with playmaker Emma Eriksson |
By Paul Nilsen
There is a familiar feel to the U18 European Championship Women quarter-final line-up in Vukovar since it features seven nations who also competed in the last eight of the competition last summer in Bucharest.
The one new face Sweden look to have a huge task ahead in stopping Spain in their tracks as head coach Victor Lapena and his players try to help their country take a clean sweep of European titles.
The Swedes do have an ability to slow teams down and currently limit teams to under 50 points. This will be important, since Spain are the top scorers in the tournament, although they are also the best defensive team which underlines the size of the task ahead.
Sweden must stop Spain in transition and especially Ariadna Pujol, whose feet never stop moving. There will also be a lot of ball pressure from playmaker Leticia Romero and so a big onus will fall on her counterpart Emma Eriksson to handle it, whilst Gabriella Hanson must come up trumps on the boards.
Last years' gold medal winners France are the only other team still perfect and will play Turkey who have laboured their way to this stage. They look one or two players short of what is required to make it to the podium and especially in the paint.
However, it could be the perimeter defence of Turkey which is the most important factor, since France have the best downtown percentage of any team and mainly because of Marine Johannes.
Turkey are capable of a surprise, but their reference players like Tilbe Senyurek for example, must find their range and come up with a big performance.
The Netherlands will be hoping they have not hit the wall since they head into their clash with Italy staring down the barrel of a third straight loss - having initially won four games. Failure to beat Italy would arguably represent under-achievement for a team that has been tipped for the podium.
It will be interesting to see if what has been a gruelling summer for many of their players (due participation at the recent U19 World Championship for Women) is now catching up with them. They have certainly looked jaded and need to re-discover their verve.
| Lisanne de Jonge is a potential game winner for the Netherlands, who needs to hit her shots and halt her team's losing streak|
When they are on-song, the Netherlands are a great team to watch, led by point guard Laura Cornelius. Emese Hof has also impressed in the paint and Klaziena Guijt has dropped triples with consistency, but the game winners could be Isabella Slim or Lisanne De Jonge.
Both are wing players who can change games. Slim has done a phenomenal job on the glass but is still in a shooting slump continued from Lithuania last month. For whatever reason, De Jonge has barely played, but showed at the Worlds and also last summer that she can turn games in a big way.
Italy will rely on the all-round game of the stellar talented Cecilia Zandalasini and the sometimes underrated frontcourt play of Elisa Penna and Elisa Ercoli. Whilst Zandalisini can light up any game with her shooting, it is the hard work of Penna and Ercoli which can often be the backbone of most Italian wins.
Last but not least, Serbia and Russia is a repeat of the semi-final from last year, although the teams are dramatically different.
Russia look strong and have a great team ethic. They have few outstanding players, but strong fundamentals. They are the best free-throw shooting team, the best rebounding team and have the second most assists.
Anna Shchetina provides real size at the center position and her team will need it to match-up with shot-blocking sensation Dragana Stankovic.
The Serbian is having an excellent tournament and backed by strong support in the stands, along with the terrific Aleksandra Crvendakic to also utilise, it promises to be an epic encounter.