|14 July 2013|
|How to stop Astou Ndour? The biggest problem facing Italy ahead of Sunday's gold medal game|
It will be a battle of the winning streaks in the final of the U20 European Championship Women, as the two deserving teams Spain and Italy are set to meet for the gold medal on Sunday in Samsun.
Now they are both in the finals, however, the two teams in question have come to the tournament with different expectations, mostly because of their success, or lack thereof, at previous U20 Championships.
Spain are in their fifth consecutive title game, and are the two-time defending champions. They have dominated the tournament with their collective minds set on one thing - an unprecedented three-peat. Now, they are only a victory away from it.
"We are aware of the history we can make, but we do not want to go one step ahead and think about it before the game," says Spain's biggest weapon, center Astou Ndour.
The Spanish have won seven of their eight games with a double-digit margin, and Ndour is one of the biggest reason why with her average of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Her semi-final performance against the host nation Turkey was most impressive of all, as she amassed 24 points and 19 rebounds.
However, Ndour and her teammates had to put every ounce of energy in the semi-finals battle against the hosts, and it is no secret it has taken a lot out of them.
"It was tough and tiring playing against Turkey in their house in such a loud atmosphere," admits Ndour. "We have to recover, and we know Italy is a tough team that has been improving throughout the tournament."
Unlike Spain that seem to have a reserved place in the finals every year, Italy have not only made it to their first ever final, but also guaranteed their first-ever medal at an U20 European Championship Women event.
"We are really happy and proud because we have already achieved a historical result," says the motor of the Italian team Francesca Dotto.
"But we don't want to stop here."
Italy's seven-game win streak is equally impressive as Spain's unbeaten run. No one even remembers their opening night 24-point loss to France because this Italy outfit is a very different team from the one that opened the tournament 10 days go.
What elevated their game is their defence that forces a tournament-high 22.7 turnovers-per-game, and allows just over 50 points-per-game.
"After the first game, we improved our play, and we know our defence is our strong force. We just hope to play a good game in the final," admits Francesca Dotto.
It would not be a surprise if the gold medal game comes down to who manages to develop more offence, as both teams play ferocious defence that tend to keep their opponents below 50 points.
In that department, Italy will want to improve on their semi-finals output against Belarus, when they got almost all of their production from their starters. Elisa Penna, Alessandra Formica, Francesca Melchiori and the Dotto twins scored all but two points. In the finals against Spain, they will need more help from the bench.
Spain is far from just Ndour. With Inmaculada Zanoguera and Sara Rodriguez they have more size, toughness and speed, while Yurena Diaz, Paula Estebas and Elena De Alfredo provide big threats on the perimeter.
They might have less than 24 hours to recover from arguably the most tense game of the competition, but knowing what it takes to win it all places Spain in the position of favourites.
Regardless of the outcome, whether it will be Spain's third in a row or Italy's first ever title, history is in the making in Samsun.