Shay Doron 88 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israeli women's national basketball team begins its participation in the EuroBasket tournament on Sunday when it faces Belarus in Valmiera, Latvia.
Israel, which will play Italy on Monday and will wrap up its games in Group D when it faces France the following day, is hoping to improve on its 13th place finish in the European Championships in 2007.
"We have been waiting for this tournament for a year and we're delighted it has finally arrived," the team's star guard, Shay Doron said. "Our goal is to advance from the preliminary round. We have nothing to lose in these championships, but we are definitely capable of reaching the second round."
The top three teams in the group will advance to a second group stage, meaning a single victory could well be enough to progress to the last 12.
"We are entering the tournament after a month's preparation and I'm very pleased with that," said coach Eli Rabi, who saw his team lose in five of its six warm-up games.
"I was never under the illusion that we are the best team in Europe so I wasn't surprised with our results in the warm-up games. Even so, I don't even want to contemplate the possibility that we won't advance from the preliminary round."
On paper, Israel is the weakest team in Group D.
Belarus finished the last EuroBasket tournament in third place and reached the quarterfinals of the Olympic Games in Beijing.
France, which ended the most recent championships in 8th place, is a traditional powerhouse in European women's basketball, and Italy finished ninth in the event in 2007.
"Basketball-wise, we are just as good as any other team, but the reality is that we are physically inferior to every other side in the group," Rabi said. "We need to be mentally superior and use our tactical advantages to succeed in these championships."
Guard Liron Cohen is optimistic the team will do well despite its physical inferiority.
"We are on the rise. We have reached two consecutive EuroBasket tournaments and that's no little feat," Cohen said. "We aren't one of the best teams in Europe, but the beauty of sports is that in a given game you can beat any team."