FIBA World Cup European Qualifiers pre-view: format, teams to watch, and most interesting games

Staff Writer
2021-11-24 11:00
Credit: AP, Alexander Shcherbak/TASS - Scanpix, Fotodiena.lt/M.Baranauskas, | BasketNews illustration/E.Alšauskas
Credit AP, Alexander Shcherbak/TASS - Scanpix, Fotodiena.lt/M.Baranauskas, | BasketNews illustration/E.Alšauskas

FIBA World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers begin on Thursday and BasketNews invites basketball fans to take a closer look at what is awaiting.

Let’s dive into the competition format, teams seeking redemption, potential underdogs, coaching masterminds, and the most fascinating games of the first FIBA window.

Format

There will be six tournament windows over 15 months. The Qualifiers run from November 2021 to February 2023, with national squads playing home and away games in each of these event windows.

The first round was formed by 24 teams that qualified for EuroBasket 2022 and eight advanced from Pre-Qualifiers. 32 squads were organized into eight groups of four. The top three teams of each group will qualify for the second round.

Credit FIBA

The second round will consist of the top 24 teams from the first round. The national squads will be divided into four groups of six teams, with results carried over from the first round. The top three teams of each group will qualify for the World Cup.

This means 12 European countries will earn a spot to compete at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.

Teams that try to bounce back

Slovenia

Slovenia suffered 9 defeats and got 3 victories in FIBA World Cup 2019 Qualifiers. They captured last place in the second round and had no chance to participate in the previous World Cup. Their group included Spain, Turkey, Montenegro, Latvia, and Ukraine.

“We have that experience now of what it means to miss out on a big tournament. This is another reason to be even more motivated not to repeat the same mistakes. We know that every game counts, and the aim is always to win,” said Klemen Prepelic in an interview with FIBA.

Credit FIBA

This time Slovenia will face neighbors from Croatia and two Scandinavia countries, Sweden and Finland, in the first Qualifiers round (Group C).

Without Luka Doncic, it is a whole different team. However, having the core of Jaka Blazic, Ziga Dimec, Gregor Hrovat, Edo Muric, Aleksej Nikolic, and Klemen Prepelic, Slovenia owns weapons to conquer Group C and collect the required number of wins in the next round.

Slovenia is now ranked fourth in the FIBA World Rankings, so missing out on the World Cup would surprise the basketball community.

Croatia

Croatia lost 8 times and won 4 contests in the last Qualifiers. They ranked fifth in their group, which involved Lithuania, Italy, Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands. Certainly, it is one of those teams that the system hurts the most.

They cannot have NBA talents like Bojan Bogdanovic, Ivica Zubac, or top EuroLeague small forwards Krunoslav Simon and Mario Hezonja (he is questionable for the second match in this window). The list can go on, especially when Badalona Juventut’s Ante Tomic is not on the roster.

Credit FIBA

Croatia is likely to compete for first place with Slovenia in Group C, but difficulties may arise at a later stage without solid rotation players.

Latvia

Latvia was 3 points away from the World Cup last time. Montenegro was holding an 8-point cushion from the first meeting in Riga. Therefore, Latvians needed a 9-point away win. Latvia defeated the hosts 80-74 at the Sports Center Moraca, but it was not enough to qualify for World Cup 2019.

Montenegro secured their first-ever World Cup appearance and became the smallest nation to be represented in the event with a population of just over 600,000.

Latvia will start its new journey in Group A, together with Serbia, Slovakia, and Belgium. The Baltic country has the same issue as Croatia, as they cannot have the best basketball talents.

At least, the trio of Dairis Bertans, Anzejs Pasecniks, and Rodions Kurucs is on the Latvia list.

Underdogs and teams to watch

Belgium

Belgium has a new generation of athletes like Ismael Bako, Hans Vanwijn, Retin Obasohan, and Andy Van Vliet on their side.

Another one, Manu Lecomte, will miss the upcoming window due to injury. Belgium shapes a combo of players who have not reached their ceiling yet and veteran sportsmen like Sam Van Rossom.

The main problem could be the competition grid. Belgium will meet Serbia and Latvia in the first round, while Greece and Turkey potentially anticipate them in the further step.

Nevertheless, the 35-year-old Van Rossom believes the system can work in Belgium’s favor: “The whole window system is unpredictable, and maybe that can be to our advantage,” Sam told FIBA.

Credit FIBA

“I would love to be one time at the World Cup. It’s something we haven’t done yet, we never qualified for it, so for me, it’s more or less the last opportunity right now to do it,” the point guard added.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dzanan Musa came back from NBA wander, and that is the best option Bosnia and Herzegovina could benefit from.

Musa is playing very successfully with Rio Breogan in Liga ACB so far, averaging 15.5 points (52.9% 2PT, 44.1% 3PT), 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 15.5 PIR over 10 games (29 minutes).

The 22-year-old has already established his name in FIBA basketball, representing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He led his team to the country’s first-ever title in team sports as MVP at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015. Musa finished the campaign with the averages of 23.3 points, 9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game.

“I was talking to the guys constantly in the summer, and there’s a great atmosphere within the group. I believe we can finally go to the World Cup and put ourselves on the world map in terms of basketball,” Musa spoke to FIBA.

And there is not only Musa in BIH’s resume. Amar Alibegovic, Edin Atic, Emir Sulejmanovic, and Miralem Halilovic will be Dzanan Musa’s co-partners, trying to reach the historic achievement. It will not be easy as Lithuania, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic fight in Group F.

Israel

Israel’s offense will depend much on Partizan’s rising star Yam Madar. Though, having Guy Pnini (38) and Gal Mekel (33) on the floor, maturity should be guaranteed. Tomer Ginet is the possible X factor who is having a solid season with Boulogne Metropolitans 92.

Israel has a bunch of EuroLeague athletes whose joining would significantly boost team shares. The extended list includes Tamir Blatt, Oz Blayzer, Jake Cohen, John DiBartolomeo, Roman Sorkin, Yiftah Ziv, and Yovel Zoosman.

It is quite realistic that many of them will help Israel in the second match against Estonia on Sunday. The first duel will be played versus Poland on Thursday. Besides Israel, Estonia, and Poland, Group D involves Germany.

It will not be the easiest task for Israel to pick up as many wins as possible before the next stage, as all squads have similar capabilities.

Coaching stars

Sergio Scariolo

Sergio Scariolo is one of the most successful coaches in international competition history, earning multiple medals with the Spanish national team. The Italian specialist served two times as bench boss of the Spanish national team: from 2009 to 2012 and from 2015 to present.

Under Scariolo, Spain won the gold medals at the EuroBasket 2009, EuroBasket 2011, and EuroBasket 2015. The squad also captured bronze medals at EuroBasket 2017.

Scariolo and the company won silver awards at the 2012 London Olympics and bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 60-year-old guided Spain to victory in the previous FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.

Vincent Collet

Vincent Collet the French Basketball Revolution pioneer, leading France for more than a decade (from 2009). Throughout this period, the basketball mastermind guided France to the silver medal at the EuroBasket 2011, while two years later, he coached the squad to the first gold medal at the 2013 continental competition.

France continued to win awards under his watch, earning bronze at the 2014 and 2019 FIBA World Cups and another bronze prize at the EuroBasket 2015.

This summer, Collet headed the national team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where France defeated the United States for the first time in its Olympic history.

On top of that, Frenchmen advanced to the final, where they lost a rematch against the Americans but finished second with the silver medals on their necks.

Credit FIBA

Svetislav Pesic

Svetislav Pesic is coming back to international basketball. Besides being a EuroLeague champion and multiple Leagues and Cups winner in clubs’ basketball, the 72-year-old has an exclusive national team coaching career, capturing no other awards than golds.

His first medal came back in 1987 when Pesic led the Yugoslavian junior national team, which featured such stars as Vlade Divac, Sasa Djordjevic, Toni Kukoc, and Dino Radja, to a gold award at the FIBA World Junior Championship.

Later he guided the German national team to the EuroBasket 1993 gold prize. With the FR Yugoslavian squad, Pesic won gold medals at the EuroBasket 2001 and FIBA World Championship 2002.

Credit FIBA

Most interesting games of the first FIBA window

Serbia v Latvia

The first sight how Serbian basketball comes back to the strict-hand coach after short-lived Igor Kokoskov’s stint.

Besides that, Radions Kurucs will possibly meet his six Partizan teammates on the other side. Maybe it will be the opportunity to watch one of the most promising Serbian prospects Nikola Jovic, 18, who just started his professional path.

Croatia v Slovenia

Certainly, the match for first place in Group C if Sweden and Finland will not create some unexpected miracles.

On top of that, it should be a perfect basketball portion that brings a free-flow, confident play on the table that Aleksander Sekulic promotes. It will also be an occasion to have a look at Slovenian and Croatian youngsters, especially Gregor Glas and Roko Prkacin.

Russia v Italy

Russia and Italy appeared in the same group, as they were in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers. Then Italy overcame Russia twice. Zoran Lukic will debut at the helm of the Russian national team.

Olympic sensations Stefano Tonut and Alessandro Pajola will seek to prove their worth again, while Russians will have to give a chance for players who do not appear on the EuroLeague court much.

Lokomotiv’s big man Andrei Martiuk, 21, could be a player to show his full talent.

Czech Republic v Lithuania

Like Russia and Italy, this duo has a rich recent history. They met each other in the last EuroBasket Qualifiers, where Lithuania two times proved their superiority.

Czechs will not have leading big men Patrik Auda and Ondrej Balvin, who are playing in Japan, while Mindaugas Kuzminskas will arrive at Opava to help his national squad.

It is never easy to play against the Czechs, as Ronen Ginzburg knows how to prepare his team for a tough fight.



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