Israel opens with tough test against Czech Republic

The blue-and-white begins its third straight European Championship campaign with an encounter against the powerful Czech Republic.

womens basketball 311 (photo credit: FIBA Europe website)
womens basketball 311
(photo credit: FIBA Europe website)
Israel’s national women’s team has made a habit of reaching recent EuroBasket tournaments, but it has no intention of settling for mere participation this time around.
The blue-and-white begins its third straight European Championship campaign with an encounter against the powerful Czech Republic in its Group B opener in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on Saturday, looking to claim its first EuroBasket win after 20 years.
After struggling to even qualify for the tournament for many years, Israel’s women have done extraordinarily well to reach the continental championships on three straight occasions, but after failing to win a game in the last three appearances (2003, 2007, 2009), Eli Rabi’s team is determined to finally triumph in the real thing for the first time since 1991, hoping also to avoid last place in its group and advance to the second group stage.
“We carry with us the painful memories of the last campaign when we believed we should have won at least one game,” Rabi said. “I hope that this time we can first of all win a game and then also progress to the next stage.
“I believe in the girls and I hope that we will play to potential.”
Israel’s preparations for the competition have been marred by basketball’s governing body FIBA refusing to allow guard Na’ama Shafir to wear a T-shirt under her uniform.
The University of Toledo star, who hails from the religious community of Hoshaya, has worn a shirt under her uniform to cover her shoulders for modesty reasons throughout her career, but FIBA turned down the Israel Basketball Association’s request to allow her to do so in the EuroBasket tournament, angering many people, including the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman who sent a letter to the heads of FIBA in Geneva calling the decision “insensitive and discriminatory.”
However, whether Shafir plays or not, she was never supposed to have an important role in this team, with Israel’s chances once more resting with the backcourt tandem of Shay Doron and Liron Cohen.
“Our opponents will tray and stop Liron and Shay, who score over 50 percent of our points,” Rabi said. “We will need to isolate other players and hope they can step up. I can proudly say that we can look all our opponents in the eye and I hope we don’t disappoint.”
The Czechs have been a powerhouse of continental women’s hopes for many years, winning the silver medal at the World Championships last year and taking a gold at the Europeans in 2005.
But the Czechs are without last year’s World Championships MVP Hana Horakova and Israel captain Liron Cohen believes the team can compete with its illustrious opponent, as well as with Belarus and Great Britain, which it will face on Sunday and Monday, respectively, in its other Group B games.
“We are still not as good as the best European teams, but we are improving with every year and we know what we need to do to succeed,” Cohen said. “Our team has been together for several years and that is one of our biggest advantages.
“Everyone knows that reaching three consecutive championships is a great achievement, but we want to finally breakthrough in this tournament and win a game.”