Belgian Cats secure Olympic ticket with win over Senegal
The Belgian Cats secured their ticket to the Paris Olympics on Friday with a 97-66 victory over Senegal in a qualifying tournament in Antwerp.
A day after a narrow 81-79 loss to the United States, the Belgian women's basketball team got off to a blistering 17-4 start. More than 7,000 spectators at the Sportpaleis saw the scoreboard read 23-15 after the first quarter, but Senegal did not give up, coming back to make it 23-19.
But by the half-time break the Belgian Cats had built up a comfortable nine-point lead, 42-33. The Cats prevented Senegal from coming back into the game and led by 29 points (73-44) at the end of the third quarter. In the final minutes, the Cats extended their lead to 97-66. After the final whistle, the Sportpaleis erupted in celebration.
As well as the United States, who had already booked their place at the Paris Olympics as world champions, Belgium and Nigeria qualified for the Games. The Cats will take on Nigeria at 16.45 on Sunday. Eliminated Senegal will play the United States at 19.15 on the final day.
"We are not going to Paris as spectators"
The Belgian Cats will be making their second appearance at the Games next summer. Three years ago in Tokyo, they finished seventh after an embarrassing quarter-final defeat to hosts Japan.
"It is a blissful feeling to be an Olympian for the second time," said Belgian Cat Emma Meesseman on Friday. "I don't dare say that we have to go for a medal. We will do our best and have fun and then you know that something nice can come out of it."
"I am relieved, but of course also very proud and happy," said national coach Rachid Méziane on Friday. "When you take part in a competition like this, you only play for one thing: a medal. We are not going to Paris as spectators."
The Belgian Cats celebrate their victory over Senegal in Antwerp on 9 February 2024 © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM