Will the atmosphere in Ljubljana (Slovenia), Saturday June 23, have a flavor of the Football World Cup? Five years after Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann – at the 2018 World Cup – the French women’s basketball team faces Belgium for a place in the final of an international competition.
A major challenge awaits Sandrine Gruda and her partners on the Arena Stozice floor, in what will be their eighth consecutive continental semi-final. Eliminated from the World Cup in 2018 by the Belgians Cats, the Blue would have nothing against a revenge.
But, unlike the French team, sluggish in the group stage, the Belgians have made a very strong impression since the start of the competition. They easily won three times in the first round (against Israel, the Czech Republic and Italy), then beat the defending champions Serbia in the quarter-finals (93-53).
Aware that “the adversary will not be the same” only for the quarter-finals, where France left little hope to Montenegro (90-46), the tricolor coach, Jean-Aimé Toupane, bet on the physical power of his players to rally a sixth continental final of in a row.
“From the start, the team has progressed”
If it won all of its matches, the France team had a sluggish start to the tournament, weakened by the absence of its two main offensive weapons (Marine Johannès and Gabby Williams). “Since the beginning, the team has progressed”, insisted Jean-Aimé Toupane, the coach of the Bleues, before the quarter-final. Confident, he recalled that “we have already seen teams start slowly and finish very strong”. The game of his players against the Montenegrins proved him right.
Despite the absence of interior Iliana Rupert – injured in the shoulder against Slovenia – the French team easily disposed of Montenegro. Carried by a solid interior sector and a formidable address, the Blue regained, in this quarter-final, their collective fluidity.
They will need it against their next opponent. “It could have been a final”, observes interior tricolor Janelle Salaun. Belgium is no longer the “surprise” team of the 2018 World Cup, sure of their strength, the teammates of Emma Meesseman, formidable since the start of the competition, are “comes for a medal”insisted the leader Julie German.
Far from being affected by the last three defeats against Les Bleues (one at Euro 2019 and two in friendly matches in 2022), Rachid Meziane’s protégés are playing their basketball game – like the triple double (15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 ists) of Meesseman in the quarter-finals.
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