EUROBASKET WOMEN 2011
|Maria Stepanova, playing in her eighth EuroBasket Women, is a player who embodies the huge Russian pedigree that goes up against the Turkish will to enter the history books in this Final|
If historical precedent were all that mattered, Russia would be preparing for their coronation as EuroBasket Women champions in Lodz on Sunday night for the third time in ten years.
Fortunately for Turkey, there are no guarantees in sport. And as the championship comes to its end, there remains the possibility of one last surprise.
Few expected the Turks to be here, still standing, still fighting to the very end.
Stumbling into the quarter-finals, most thought they would fall to Montenegro.
Most were wrong.
Their odds were long against France in the semis. Again they confounded the forecasts.
And now, in their first-ever major finale, with the opportunity to book a place at the 2012 Olympics, they will chase the mother of all shocks.
"This is a huge moment for Turkish basketball," admits centre Nevin Nevlin, who has combined with Nevriye Yilmaz to form a new version of the Twin Towers.
"It's history. We're part of it. We're very proud and we know 70 million people back home are proud of us.
"We played Russia once already and we were proud of how we did. But we're a different team from the first time. We're going to come out and play the same way we did (in the semi-final). We're confident. We believe in ourselves."
If the Turks have improved immensely since losing to the Russians two weeks ago, their final opponents have been transformed.
The 2009 silver medallists stuttered and stumbled through the opening two rounds in Bydgoszcz, requiring a narrow victory over Great Britain to advance to the latter stages.
The traditional power looked to be fading. Reports of their demise were premature.
In the semi against the Czechs, the old swagger and confidence was back. Except it is now propelled by their new generation who have made their presence felt.
And while four players now have their chance to earn a third European gold, their younger team-mates possess dreams of their own.
"I feel like it's a great mix," states Svetlana Abrosimova.
"We have experienced players who are still at the top of their game and younger players who probably are not as well known. You have me, (Ilona) Korstin, (Maria) Stepanova. But when you add someone new, it's not easy to adjust."
Turkey will try to cope. Russia is the favourites but sport's greatest tradition is the possibility of a surprise. Watch and see.
Head-to-Head: In the opening round, Russia was an 80-65 winner over Turkey, building an unassailable 29-7 advantage after the first quarter.
Last Time Out: In the semi-finals, Elena Danilochkina hit 18 points as the Russians crushed the Czech Republic 85-53. Turkey showed immense courage to beat France 68-62 in overtime.
Key Match-Up: Danilochkina v Birsel Vardarli. The two points guards came up big in the semis with the Russian underlining her central role with a mature performance. Vardarli, despite missing two free-throws at the end of regulation, held her team together when the pressure was on.
Key Stat: Russia is the competition's highest scoring team (70.3ppg). Turkey is second in lowest field goals allowed (21.0). Defence is going to be the key.
X-Factor: The two coaches. Both Russia's Boris Sokolovsky and Turkey's Ceyhun Yıldızoğlu have adjusted their rotations depending on the opposition, giving their teams a touch of unpredictability even as the tournament has progressed. Expect the unexpected again.
Sounding Off: "The medal is the biggest motivation for us. We need to put a lot of energy into it. Turkey runs all the time. They'll bring the unexpected. We need to deal with that," said Russia forward Ilona Korstin.