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Preview: Groups A & B

16 November 2015
EUROBASKET WOMEN 2017 QUALIFIERS

14. Anete Steinberga (Latvia)
Anete Steinberga averaged 15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds over four games at EuroBasket Women 2015

The road to EuroBasket Women 2017 tips off at the weekend and we take a look at those involved - starting with Groups A and B which have a strong Baltic influence and the 2015 runners-up.

One of the most eagerly anticipated games in the entire qualification schedule will be a mouth-watering Group A derby clash between Latvia and Lithuania, with both teams having made coaching changes during recent months.

While Lithuania reached the Quarter-Finals in Hungary, they will be in for a big test against their neighbours who may have exited the Final Round early, but now arguably have their strongest roster for many years at their disposal.

Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Gunta Basko-Melnbarde will continue, but recently appointed play-caller Martin Zibarts can also potentially welcome both Elina Babkina and Zane Teilane into the mix, with both having played at the very highest level for club and country prior to missing out at the Final Round.

Anete Steinberga is also showing her qualities in Russia with Chevakata and will be a real handful under the hoop, something that will place a big emphasis on Gintare Petronyte who arguably remains the biggest asset for Lithuania.

The towering center herself is one of the most difficult match-ups around due to her sheer size and she will carry much of her country's hopes as Rimuydas Samulenas picks up the reins from Mantas Sernius.

Pushing Petronyte in the number one stakes is the free-scoring Kamile Nacickaite, who sunk more than 15 points per game at the Final Round. Vita Kuktiene and Lina Pikciute bring current EuroLeague Women experience this season at Spar CityLift Girona and Marina Solopova is 'X-factor' personified.

6. Nika Baric (Slovenia)
Nika Baric is once more expected to be the linchpin of the Slovenian team 

Slovenia are the other team in Group A and perhaps they will relish being in the shadow of the big Baltic derby games. Especially since they can't be discounted with genuine quality in their ranks and therefore could be a real dark horse.

They have a couple of quality guards in playmaker and team leader Nika Baric of UMMC, while Teja Oblak continues to impress in EuroLeague Women with Good Angels Kosice.

Trying to reach Final Round for the very first time, they will provide the main thrust but there is a solid core with the know-how of Maja Erkic and Sandra Pirsic, while the burgeoning talent of teenager Annamaria Prezelj could be utilised at the other end of the spectrum.

France headline Group B as they try to bounce back from the disappointment of losing successive EuroBasket Women Finals. They will be favourites to advance and as usual, will have a loaded roster and Valerie Garnier will be expected to successfully navigate qualifying waters without too much trouble.

Celine Dumerc and Sandrine Gruda continue to offer truly world-class skills, with decisions to be made in terms of those around them due to some injuries and absences. However, Endene Miyem, Helena Ciak, and Paoline Salagnac will be just some of the names down to make a strong primary rotation.

4. Jelena Ivezic (Croatia)
 Jelena Ivezic's all-round play will be one of the key factors for Croatia in their qualification campaign

Croatia could justifiably have a claim to take pole position if France aren't at their best, but the injury crisis which decimated their summer campaign at the Final Round is threatening to rear its ugly head again with Ana Lelas, Carmen Miloglav and Mirna Mazic ruled out.

At least Braslav Turic and his team will benefit from a further injection of quality from the return of the do-it-all Jelena Ivezic and naturalised Shavonte Zellous, who will make her debut.

Netherlands will have Remy De Wit at the helm as he moves up from the various youth roles he has fulfilled in recent years to try and finally transform potential into a coveted place at the Final Round in 2017.

One of those young players looking to make a step up could be Janis Ndiba, after gaining more experience through the Dutch Federation's Orange Blizzards project in EuroCup Women.

Tanya Broring and Chatilla van Grinsven will be two primary go-to players, as will Naomi Halman whose re-integration could prove priceless as Netherlands try to find some productivity in the paint which was lacking last time.

Last but not least, Estonia will be underdogs but showed last time they have the capacity to push teams close after beating Portugal during the EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifiers and almost surprising Italy.

Merike Anderson of EuroLeague Women competitors Mithra Castors Braine remains the inspiration, with Pirgit Puu always on hand to offer a cameo and further leadership.

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