Belgian Cats have 'nothing to lose' in Olympic qualifying tournament opener against USA
Basketball's popularity has exploded in Belgium since the Belgian Cats beat Spain in the final of last year's European Championship. But even the European champions have to qualify for the Olympic Games. That is why the Belgian women are preparing for the qualifying tournament against the current Olympic and world champions, the USA.
The Olympic qualifying tournament kicks off on Thursday evening at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp, where Belgium will take on the USA. Regardless of the result, it will be a historic match for the sport: according to Basketbal Vlaanderen, more than 10,000 tickets have already been sold, setting a new record for women's basketball in the country.
Being in the same group as the best team in the world might seem like bad luck for the Belgian Cats, but the opposite is true. For the USA, winning the World Championships in 2022 also meant they qualified for the Olympics. This means there are two Olympic tickets left in Belgium's group for the three remaining countries.
As such, Thursday's game will be more of a training session for the more important matches this weekend, against African Championship runners-up Senegal on Friday and African champions Nigeria on Sunday. Winning at least one of those two matches will be crucial to securing a ticket to the Paris Olympics.
"Even a surprise win against the USA won't matter if we don't get good results in the following two games," said point guard Julie Allemand this week. "The game against the Americans is a good practice. We have nothing to lose and will prepare for the clashes against Senegal and Nigeria."
"We have nothing to lose and will prepare for the clashes against Senegal and Nigeria"
If Belgium qualify, it will be their eighth consecutive appearance at a major tournament after four European Championships, two World Cups and the 2021 Olympic Games in Japan. The Tokyo Olympics were also the Cats' first Olympic Games, where they finished a disappointing seventh.
© BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR