Belgium, Croatia Face Struggle Against Italy

02 January 2009
Italy have yet to earn a spot in this year's EuroBasket Women but coach Giampiero Ticchi's unbridled enthusiasm strongly suggests the Azzurre will be one of two sides to advance to Latvia from this month's Additional Qualifying Round.

The Italians are in Group B with Croatia and Belgium and the side that finishes top will travel to the Baltics for the Final Round.

Germany, Ukraine and Bulgaria will fight it out for the one spot on offer in Group A.

"From our last European qualifying game to today, I have visited every club and followed players that might be of interest to the national team," Ticchi said.

"I have seen enthusiasm and a spirit of collaboration from all involved, as well as watching seven European Cup games."

A short-handed Italy won four of their eight games in last year's Division A campaign but Ticchi has received commitments from all of the country's front-line players for the forthcoming qualifiers against Croatia and Belgium.

Two of the 16 players named in the preliminary squad who figure to make a considerable difference will be EuroBasket Women 2007 players Laura Macchi and Raffaella Masciadri - both absentees last summer.

The leading scorer from the Division A games, Simona Ballardini, is another in the group.

Ballardini, Eva Giauro, Jenifer Nadalin and Giorgia Sottana are all in the player pool and will carry a lot of confidence into the games after helping Umana Reyer Venezia finish top of their EuroLeague Women Qualifying Round.

Masciadri didn't play in 2008 because of her WNBA season with the Los Angeles Sparks but has returned to Italy where she is on the books of Beretta Famila Schio.

"In recent months, Italian teams have done well in the EuroLeague and the EuroCup, and we want to confirm this positive moment," Ticchi said.

"I am happy because all of the girls with whom I have spoken have expressed their wish to wear the Azzurri colors and to qualify and this is a good sign for me and for Italian basketball.

"(Dubravka) Dacic, who I decided not to call, had given me her availability even if her enthusiasm was not as much as the others. I will call her in the future but for this [Additional Qualifying Round], I have opted to rest her in order not to cause any conflict with Valencia, seeing as the Spanish league doesn't have a break."

If the unavailability of players cost Italy in 2008, that very problem should hurt Croatia and Belgium.

Croatia's USK Prague center Sonja Kireta and Belgium's CSKA Moscow superstar Ann Wauters are not expected to turn out for their respective national sides.

The Croatians are extremely fortunate to be in the Additional Qualifying Round after winning just two of their eight games last year while Belgium stayed alive with a 2-4 record.

"Croatia have an ample roster and good players even though they will be missing their star player (Sonja Kireta)," Ticchi said on the FIP website.

"Belgium will not have their top star after CSKA Moscow's Ann Wauters decided not to play. It's an advantage for us, without a doubt, even if we have to respect the fact that they have interesting players."

Ticchi firmly believes that if Italy's players hit the court supremely focused, neither of their opponents can stop them.

"We will face the Additional Qualifying Round with our best Italian players," Ticchi said.

"If we come out on the court determined and with enthusiasm, it will be impossible to beat us."

Croatia host the first game in Group B on January 4 against Belgium in Sibenik while Italy will travel to Liege for their first game against Belgium on January 7.


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