|11 August 2013|
|Will the celebrations last on for the Czech Republic after Sunday's final?|
By Dan Casey
The Czech Republic are looking for their first U16 European Championship Women title. Defending champions Spain are eyeing a third successive gold. Who will triumph in Albena on Sunday evening?
Spain's dominance at this level in the last decade has been overwhelming, with seven gold medals in the last nine years. Only France have denied them in recent years, winning in 2010 at the quarter-final stage and in 2007 in the final to hand Spain their only silver medal. Italy and Belgium have tried twice each in recent finals, but they have finished second.
The Czechs have tried themselves, meeting Spain in the 2006 final in Kosice, Slovak Republic. Spain claimed gold then, a familiar colour to the Spanish basketball programme, which also boasts the current U20 European women's champions as well as defending EuroBasket senior men's and women's champions.
And Spain have rolled through this tournament undefeated too - so presumably they are prohibitive favourites to claim gold on Sunday?
Not at all, and to say so would be to ignore the quality which the Czech team have shown so far in tournament. They have been undefeated since opening night, when again (coincidentally) France were the team to deny them. Coach Richard Fousek's team have reeled off seven straight wins since that opening setback, and Fousek has a well-balanced squad at his disposal.
Spain may have won all their games, but a closer examination shows they have encountered a few scares along the way. They trailed Croatia with 12 seconds remaining on opening night, and Latvia and Russia gave them tough games in the group stage before hard-fought, grinding wins against France and Hungary in the knockout stage.
Coach Evaristo Perez has years of experience to call upon of course, but history can be a burden in some ways - after all, history does not dictate that the class of 1997 is especially equipped with talent. The fact that coach Perez and his team continue to produce such teams is a testament to the Spanish Basketball Federation, and in Angela Salvadores coach Perez has an ideal on-court leader for his team.
|Can Angela Salvadores pull off another star performance to help Spain retain their title?|
Salvadores leads the tournament in scoring with 16 points per game and her temperament and control on the court are large factors in making her a special player. She is able to help the team in any way necessary and already has the experience of gold in 2012 to draw upon. Guard Maria Cazorla was part of the 2012 success also, and their experiences could prove invaluable as tensions mount in the gold medal game.
Forward Maria Conde has had an exceptional tournament, combining stellar defense with a handy ability to make big shots, and forwards Cecilia Muhate and Iho Lopez have patrolled the paint effectively. They have already slowed the vaunted frontlines of Russia and Hungary in the past few days, but Czech center Julia Reisingerova may be tougher to tame.
The Czech team has impressed with their group ethic, with eight players averaging at least 15 minutes a game for the tournament, but Reisingerova is undoubtedly the most noticeable player on the team. The 1.93m center only turned 15 in April and she has displayed an array of skills during the tournament, with nice hands and an aggressive intensity that is tough for other teams to contain.
Tereza Sipova and Petra Holesinska have stood out also, and the Spanish team will be wary that closing down one weapon will not be enough to contain the Czech attack. Coach Fousek brings his own wealth of experience to the team, having been Head Coach since 2007, and he led his team to success at the European Youth Olympic Festival in Utrecht earlier this year.
Statistically the teams are evenly matched, with control of the paint a huge factor in the match as always. Lopez and Muhate are skilled rebounders, but Sipova's tenacity belies her size. Lopez has helped Spain to block twice as many shots as the Czech team so far in the tournament, but the Czech have the tournament's best three-point shooting percentage (33-118, 28.0%) while Spain have the lowest (23-122, 18.9%). The Czech team will need to look after the ball well, as they have averaged nearly two more turnovers per game than Spain have so far in the competition.
Such fine details could be crucial in a match-up that promises to deliver a great game. Will we see the Spanish machine roll on, or a new team claiming their first gold? Join us at 17:30 CET at www.livebasketball.tv to find out.