Australian Opals set to kick off FIBA ​​Basketball World Cup countdown

While all the recent hype surrounding the Australian Opals has focused on the possibility of the iconic Lauren Jackson returning, there still remains the small question of the current squad and their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Starting Thursday night, the Opals will face Brazil, Serbia and South Korea in the FIBA ​​Qualifying Tournament in Serbia, all places.

Whether the Opals have to deal with the fallout from the Novak Djokovic saga remains to be seen, but they are a good, experienced side who should be able to withstand any possible hostility from the crowd in Belgrade.

As hosts, Australia have already qualified for the World Cup in September, but they are a team that will want to put last year’s chaos behind them with a firm, if not dominant, display against teams desperate to join them in Sydney.

Led by skipper Sami Whitcomb and veterans Steph Talbot, Cayla George, Marianna Tolo and Bec Allen, all of whom have extensive national team experience, the Opals will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign in Tokyo that was beset by the chaos in mind. -at the top.

However, the team will be without 22-year-old rising star Ezi Magbegor, who suffered an ankle injury during Opals training camp last week, and despite all the scans coming back negative, won’t was not risky for the whirlwind trip.

Along with the aforementioned veterans, the Opals will also look to Alanna Smith, Sara Blicavs and Tess Madgen, along with rookie guards Shyla Heal and Maddison Rocci.

But make no mistake, this qualifying tournament will not be a springtime picnic.

With matches against defending Euro champions Serbia, as well as two pesky teams from Brazil and Korea, the Opals will have their work cut out for them to finish atop their qualifying group.

The Opals will face Brazil first, an Australian side beaten in Olympic qualifying in France, so there will be plenty of motivation for the South Americans to get revenge.

As always, Brazil will be led by 39-year-old legend Erika de Souza in what is sure to be her last chance at a major tournament, after a stellar career that has so far included three Olympics and four World Cups. . .

However, Brazil will be without the twin towers of Damiris Dantas and Clarissa Dos Santos. Therefore, Sandy Brondello’s side will be looking to take advantage of any mismatches they can create on the front line.

After the game against Brazil, Serbia are next and they are a team that has given the Opals a lot to think about before.

Indeed, the last time Australia faced Serbia was in the quarter-finals of the 2016 Olympics, an epic competition that saw the Europeans triumph with a 73-71 victory and eliminated the Opals from medal race.

Given that Serbia lost the bronze medal qualifier to France in Tokyo and missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the hosts won’t be short of motivation either.

For Serbia, Yvonne Anderson has been a joy to watch and the naturalized playmaker will – just as she was at the Olympics – be the focal point for the hosts, who have yet to come to terms with the stalwarts’ retirements. national team Sonja Vasić and Jelena Brooks after the games in Tokyo.

To end the tournament, the Opals will face Korea, a team they have comfortably dealt with in the past.

However, there’s plenty to suggest it might be a little tougher this time around, as the return of towering center Ji-su Park means the Opals will have their work cut out at both ends of the floor.

Australia represented the Koreans quite easily in the last Asian Cup, but Park was absent from this tournament, so expect match-up problems for the Opals this time, especially if Dan-bi Kim and Hye-Jin Park can provide different offensive options to complement Park’s interior dominance.

More than anything else, this tournament is an opportunity for the Opals to show that the lessons of Tokyo have not gone unheeded and that the team will still be in contention for a medal in September and a World Cup on home soil.

Opal Games:
v Brazil (Thursday February 10 at 10 p.m. AEDT)
vs Serbia (Sunday February 13 at 7:00 a.m. AEDT)
v South Korea (Monday February 14 at 1am AEDT)

All matches live on ESPN, E-App and Kayo.

Opal Squad:
Sami Whitcomb (C), Bec Allen, Sara Blicavs, Darcee Garbin, Cayla George, Shyla Heal, Tess Madgen, Maddison Rocci, Alanna Smith, Steph Talbot, Marianna Tolo, Kristy Wallace

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