|27 July 2014|
|Camille Cirgue's star has risen every time she has stepped on the court in Matosinhos|
France and Russia will fight it out to take the coveted gold medal at the U18 European Championship Women in Matosinhos as they play out a repeat of the 2012 showpiece game.
It's a fourth successive final appearance for Les Bleuettes and a fifth in six years as they look to regain the crown they relinquished last summer in Vukovar.
Both teams met each other on the first day of the tournament, with France taking a 55-50 overtime success and on paper at least, there doesn't look to be anything other than another hard-fought game lying in wait.
It remains to be seen what impact that game actually has (if any) since a lot of water has passed under the bridge since.
France have played some exceptional defence throughout the competition and the help-defence in particular has enabled them to grind out results.
Setting the tone in this respect has been Camille Cirgue, a player head-coach Arnaud Guppillotte freely admitted isn't the most gifted or skilled, but she epitomises the entire French team concept.
Not the quickest or the most athletic, her basketball brain allows her to come high and help out her guards by switching or helping and the fact she played over 35 minutes per game in the semi-final with Serbia speaks volumes.
Without any prolific scorers, this is the only way for France to succeed - although they can make shots through Louise Dambach and Marylie Limousin.
No matter how good France play defensively, they must be hoping Russia don't find the truly three-dimensional game they did against Spain.
While all the focus had been on Zhosselina Maiga and Tatiana Sema inside, complimented by the quickness of Kseniia Levchencko - they added the ‘X-factor' element when it mattered by making dagger shots from the wing via Daria Kolosovskaia and Anastasia Kuplinova.
Coming up with a strategy to stop Russia inside, slow down Levchenko and also stop the three-point shooters will be difficult.
But, perhaps this is more about France being able to score themselves - although they will probably be quite content with a half-court game and just grinding out one last but oh so priceless victory.
|Marylie Limousin has a tough task ahead of her as she attempts to shut down Kseniia Levchenko, whom the Russians run all their offence through |
That is the conundrum for Russian play-caller Dmitry Donskov. With his presence in the paint, he could slow the game down, but then this arguably hands the initiative to France who probably won't want a running game.
But, with Levchenko a big threat in the open court and the players to get the defensive boards to facilitate this, he may ask his team to push the ball down the court quite aggressively.
It promises to be a fascinating tactical encounter.
Records: Russia 7-1 (LWWWWWWW), France 7-1 (WLWWWWWW)
Key Match-Up: On the basis that tempo alone could be so important if Russia do want to get out and run a little then Kseniia Levchenko and Marylie Limousin will probably be a pivotal battle.
Key Stat: Both teams were poor in looking after the ball during the first encounter, with Russia throwing it away 28 times and France 25 times so maybe whoever injects the most control into their game this time around will enhance their prospects.