Belgian cats are hunting for an Olympic ticket at the Antwerp Sports Palace this week. Our commentator Christophe Vandecoor weighs up Belgium's chances, assesses the clash with superpower USA and reflects on a sold-out hall full of eager fans: three questions and answers before the qualifiers begin.
Are Belgian cats guaranteed to qualify early?
If logic is respected, an Olympic ticket should never elude the Belgian cats. The United States is the horse, but Senegal and Nigeria should in principle be viable cards. Yet our commentator Christophe Vandecoor preaches caution.
“You should always be 'preemptively' cautious,” it says. “There are many factors at play.”
“In principle, the Cats should qualify for Paris, but not like they did against Poland in November. That was a very poor match, Belgium essentially took the momentum out of the match against a very well scouted opponent. .”
The defeat against Poland was an important warning.
The message is for the Belgian cats to play their own fast game. “Also, the defeat against Poland was a warning. It is very important in this context,” says Vandecoor, who insists that the matches against Senegal and Nigeria will be crucial.
“In Africa, Senegal have been ranked lower than Nigeria for years. It will be a very tough fight between the two countries. Senegal also has a new coach in Belgium's favor. They will have a lot less training under that new coach. .”
If Senegal loses to Nigeria on Thursday and Belgium on Friday, the Belgian Cats are guaranteed an immediate Olympic Games berth. “In principle, Senegal will fail. In fact, qualifying should not be a problem for Belgium. The opposite would actually be a nightmare.”
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Can Belgium really beat Team America?
Team USA has long been a Goliath vs. Others story in women's basketball. The U.S. women dominate their game, and their last loss at the World Cup came in 2006 when Russia was so strong in the semifinals of the World Cup.
So America seems untouchable. Or will the Belgian Cats have a stunt backed by the home crowd on Thursday evening? “In principle you say: No. But here too many factors are at play,” says Christoph Vandecoor.
“A lot of players on the US team don't have match rhythm because almost nobody has been to Europe after the WNBA season. They've played some exhibition games, but it's not like that. Belgium is unbeaten in the last two matches against the US.”
You get the feeling that Belgium are already focused on the match against Senegal. It will already be in America's mind.
“But you feel now that the Cats' focus is already high on the match against Senegal. It will already be on their mind against the USA,” Vandecoor expects.
“They see the match against America as a practice and then they can make changes against Senegal. It's a shame on the one hand, but understandable on the other. After all, it's about the ticket to Paris 2024.”
“Beating the USA would be an absolute highlight, but it would have to happen against Senegal or Nigeria. You can hope the USA will be underestimated or because of the lack of rhythm of the match, but with their talent they punish the slightest mistake. So it will be difficult.”
Does Sportpaleis motivate or disable?
Four years ago, the Belgian Cats qualified for the Olympics for the first time at a packed CORTEC Dôme in Ostend. But now that Belgium is the European champion, it might be a little more. The impressive Sportpalace in Antwerp is the setting for OKT.
“I'm also curious to see what the outcome will be,” says our commentator, who was there when the Cats lost to Poland in November at the Lotto Arena, Sportpalice's little brother.
“The Lotto arena certainly didn't encourage the cats at the time. The spectators were also very quiet when the cats were struggling. It should be better now.”
1.5 hours of cheering is almost the duty of the home crowd.
“I'm excited to see what it will do for the players, supported by 13,700 supporters. When things go well, you're backed by that crowd and I think you can go all the way against America.”
“No one has ever experienced such a big, full house. Realizing that they've come this far with this generation should give them a boost. I think they'll definitely be pushed for that on Thursday.”
“I don't think the crowd will have a paralyzing effect. At the OKT in Ostend, the fans really cheered in that decisive match against Sweden. I expect it will be no different now. Everyone should feel how special it is. And it's almost the duty of the home crowd to cheer for 1.5 hours.”
Olympic Qualifiers in Antwerp
3 countries each qualified for the Olympics in 4 qualifiers. As world champions, the United States is already guaranteed a ticket in Belgium's group. The top two nations in this group, except the United States, will advance to Paris 2024.
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