|14 June 2013|
EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
|"The still have to guard us too." Yelena Leuchanka |
The Czech Republic will face a familiar foe in their EuroBasket Women 2013 opener.
Lubor Blazek's new-look side are entering a major competition without either Eva Viteckova or Hana Horakova for the first time since 1999.
But they will receive little sympathy from Belarus, with who they share a growing rivalry, according to returning star Yelena Leuchanka.
"With the Czechs we have a little bit of history," said Leuchanka, who is back with Belarus after spending last summer playing in the USA.
"It goes all the way back to Italy (EuroBasket Women 2007), they were then European Champions but we played them and we won and then in the World Championships (2010) we went to overtime.
"They are a great team, very big and strong. We have watched some film and they run a lot for their size, it's amazing. We have our hands full but they still have to guard us too."
Due to all their changes, the Czechs are something of an unknown quantity - even to themselves.
Center Ilona Burgova said: "It's a new team with new faces and we are still working, hoping that on the court we can put all the little pieces together and win some games."
|Patroling the paint for Lithuania: Gintare Petronyte |
The other game in the well-balanced Group D sees Lithuania take on Croatia. Without a number of key players, such as Sandra Linkeviciene and Ausra Bimbaite, Lithuania face a tough task to replicate the top-eight finish they achieved two years ago.
There is certainly talent amongst the ranks for coach Algirdas Paulauskas to call upon but it is taking them time to gel, as their record of three wins from ten preparation games suggests.
Gintare Petronyte will be one of those out to impress. The former FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year is likely to be given a bigger role to play and she will be hoping to come up good on the big stage and justify the hype that surrounded her earlier on in her career.
Lithuania must look no further than their first opponents to realise that success is attainable without a full-strength roster however. Croatia shocked many with their fifth placed finish at EuroBasket Women 2011, despite a number of absentees.
That result led to a maiden Olympic appearance in London last summer where Ana Lelas impressed in particular. The forward averaged 12 points and 5.2 rebounds in five games and also scored 23 points in Croatia's solitary victory, against Angola - so look for her to star once again.