|24 August 2013|
|Emese Hof alluded to the fact that the Netherlands matched up well with Spain for three quarters in the Second Round. Now they need to do it for four |
By Paul Nilsen
There are so many reasons for the Netherlands and Spain to want to make amends when the pair clash in the semi-finals of the U18 European Championship Women in Vukovar.
Several of the Spanish players will no doubt still feel stung by under-achieving with a fifth-place finish in the competition last summer in Bucharest - a position they have already bettered, but for which only a medal this time around will truly make up for.
The Netherlands have a couple of reasons to derive some extra motivation from winning the match-up. Many current players were part of the team that made the last four in the Romanian capital, but were edged off the podium.
Additionally, they have already been overrun 70-54 by Spain during the Second Round and according to center Emese Hof, they want to give a better account of themselves, having run out of gas in the first meeting.
She insisted, "I think we matched up quite well with Spain for around three quarters and I hope that this time we can continue even longer.
"It is always very difficult because they are a good team, but I have confidence in my team and my teammates that it is possible we can now win this game even though many people will make them favourites."
Hof has been in good form throughout the summer, averaging 9.4 points and 8.3 rebounds-per-game in Vukovar and Vinkovci and establishing herself as one of the leading shot blockers around, as well as one of the most clinical and reliable finishers at the basket.
"I feel as though I get more balls now in the games and I have been able to be a little more dominant," reflected Hof with satisfaction.
"I think there has been an improvement for me but that has also been because of the help from the coaches and my teammates, as well as my own work.
| Isabella Slim will have one of the biggest tasks in marking Ariadna Pujol|
"It's a great group of girls to play with and they always push you to go harder and I really hope we can go further in the tournament."
"It is also very important that our teams keep reaching these kind of levels and I really hope it continues because it is great for Netherlands basketball."
A historic youth medal would be a great accomplishment, but there is little doubt that to achieve it on Saturday night will mean Netherlands bringing nothing but their "A" game to the table.
Spain looked awesome in their 72-32 quarter-final destruction of Sweden and whilst semi-finalists France are also unbeaten, the Spanish have looked invincible at times.
One of the most difficult games Spain had was against Russia, when they almost had their fingers burnt by the wing play of Daria Kolosovskaia and Polina Fedorova.
That might give encouragement to the Netherlands' own wing players such as Isabella Slim, but not as much as a strategy to slow Spain down.
Spain play with the same ethos as all of their other women's teams, from senior level downwards.
The golden thread is the high-octane approach, the pressure, the ball movement and execution in transition.
It's not an insult to Netherlands by saying they must win ugly, but running up and down with Spain may not be wise. However, if the Dutch can disrupt the Spanish rhythm , do a good job on the glass and dictate the tempo as much as possible, it could be very interesting.
Added to that, Spain have to buck the trend at this particular tournament which has sometimes proven to be a very rare thorn in their side.