EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFIERS
|Birthday girl Nevena Jovanovic has reason to celebrate anyway, but a win over Montenegro would call for a double Saturday party|
By Paul Nilsen
Birthday girl Nevena Jovanovic is looking for the perfect gift when Serbia host neighbours Montenegro this weekend and that's the kind of victory which will light a fire under the qualification hopes of Marina Maljkovic's team.
Serbia sits with a 2-2 record and now look destined to fight it out with Poland for second place in Group B while, in stark contrast, Montenegro proudly leads the way with a flawless four wins from four games.
Jovanovic, who has averaged double digits during a very productive and impressive summer, will turn 22 on Saturday, the day of the game.
She was quick to point out that both she and much of the Serbian team is still learning, but can succeed in their mission to make it to France.
"We are a young team, we work hard and we believe that this kind of approach will bring us results," Jovanovic said.
"We are playing better and this can be a big encouragement to continue and then to qualify.
"This will be a very important meeting with Montenegro and in the case of us getting a victory, it would certainly take us one step closer to a place at EuroBasket Women."
HARD WORK AND HOME SUPPORT
Meanwhile Ana Dabovic is insisting home fans can help make the difference.
The guard has been one of the most consistent performers this summer and believes Serbia can bounce back from heartbreak in Poland to inflict a first loss on the high-flying Montenegrins.
"We have learned a lot from the previous two losses, one of which was a particularly painful one in Poland, when we lost in literally the last second," admitted Dabovic.
| Ana Dabovic, Serbia's top scorer in the Qualification Round, coincides with her coach that an enthusiastic home crowd will be key to Saturday's game|
"On Saturday, I expect strong support from the stands and I believe if we correct all of our errors, we can triumph."
Coach Maljkovic is acutely aware her team has a big task ahead if they want to avoid losing valuable ground in the race to qualify for France.
"Montenegro has had maximum effect in the previous matches to justify their status of favourites in the group," Maljkovic said.
"They have great experience, fantastic individual players, great coaches and they work long and hard.
"We are a young team with eight newcomers, and perhaps four key players were injured for us. Thus we have a big fight ahead of us.
Just like Dabovic though, the paly-caller is hoping her team can cause an upset with the help of the home support.
"We hope that, with the help of the crowd, we can produce a surprise," said Maljkovic.
"We had a fantastic atmosphere in Smederevo (against Switzerland). There were a lot of girls who watched their idols, and I believe that among them there were plenty of future basketball players and team members.
"I now want to believe it will be the same in Belgrade. I want a good atmosphere and I want everyone to cheer loudly for Serbia. "