The champion of the continent will be determined again in this year’s tournament running from June 27th through July 7th. Automatic Olympic qualification is no longer on the line in this new format, but the top six teams will move on to the next stage. Each group has four teams with games on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, with the last place team eliminated and the first place team moving directly to the quarterfinals. Group A and B will be played in Riga, Latvia and the first knockout round games for teams from those groups will be played there on Monday while Group C is in Nis and Group D is in Zrenjanin. The second and third place teams from those groups will play in Belgrade for the first knockout round on Tuesday as the two Latvia-based groups will also travel there with Serbia hosting all the games from the quarterfinals on to the end.
The story leading up to the tournament has been players who will be missing for the event, but with teams going through the preparation process, they will be ready with the squad they have. The teams at the top know are chasing continental glory, but they also know that all teams will be in the same boat for Olympic qualification. This process will give the chance to one more team as previous cycles only saw one automatic qualifier and four qualifying tournament entries from Europe. With some favorites spread out across the groups, it will be intriguing to see if either the Latvia groups or the Serbia groups have an advantage when they cross over for the quarterfinal games.
Great Britain returns to this stage after failing to qualify for the last tournament. While many familiar names have returned, the team is also in the middle of a transition period. Having the star duo of Johannah Leedham-Warner and Temi Fagbenle spend all club season together should give them a chemistry boost for this format. The team will also be hoping for Karlie Samuelson to hit the ground running with less game sharpness than the rest of the players. Cheridene Green is one of the young players who tried out for the team that made the cut and showed promise during the exhibition schedule. With injuries hurting Latvia, the head-to-head matchup will be a chance for the team to get the win that would send them to the next round.
Latvia was excited to be named one of the hosts, especially coming off a fantastic performance two years ago. Unfortunately they have been rocked hard by injuries and other absences, missing half a team’s worth of players. The presence of Elina Dikaioulaku gives them a player whose scoring can win them a game at any time while Kristine Vitola will lend her experience to a side continuing to integrate young players. The advantage that they will have is chemistry from past tournaments and also club play. The homecourt advantage could end up making the difference in whether the team can grind out a result that will get them to the next round, but a repeat of the heroics that propelled them onto the world stage seems unlikely with this current group.
Spain figures to be among the favorites again having won two out of the last three titles. Their path grew harder immediately after finding out that their key player and last tournament’s MVP Alba Torrens would not be available, but they have had longer than other teams to prepare for absences so they should have a plan without her. This group is not nearly as difficult as it could be and a group win would give them significant rest before the key games. As always, Spain has fantastic depth in the backcourt and many combinations to choose from, but less in the frontcourt behind the duo of Astou Ndour and Laura Nicholls. While they have been flying under the radar, it would be no surprise to see them lift the trophy again.
There have been moments of confusion surrounding Ukraine in the run-up to this event, but their roster is set and ready to go. An absolutely full strength team would be very dangerous, but any team with Alina Iagupova has a player who can single-handedly win any game. While the team is lacking a second star that can reduce the scoring load on her, they do have reasonable depth and team full of players in the primes of their careers. There remains some mystery on how strong this group will be when competitive games start, but there is room in this group to get the second spot and set up a favorable matchup for a path to the quarterfinals.
The Czech Republic has been left scrambling after losing all of their frontcourt depth before the tournament, which means that they may be unable to advance to the next round once again. The Elhotova sisters, Katerina and Karolina will be the experienced leaders of this team and will be asked to provide a lot of offense. Fans will be happy to see young Veronika Vorackova take the court again after not seeing her for an entire season. They will need contributions to pop up from unexpected places to get them the win that could keep them from swift elimination.
France has been the runners up for three consecutive tournaments and there were early suggestions that this might be their year. A variety of absences up and down the lineup have dampened expectations suddenly, but new talent will have the chance to emerge. Alexia Chartereau was a breakout star two years ago and Iliana Rupert or even Marine Fauthoux could play that role this time. Sandrine Gruda figures to be the key player in the post again and the team will have solid wing play between Marine Johannes, Valeriane Ayayi, and Endy Miyem, but there are questions about how the guard situation will be handled and how the offense should be structured, especially late in games. Bria Hartley may have the advantage, having worked with coach Valerie Garnier all club season, although she did arrive in camp late and has had to be eased into preparations, but her scoring ability is a big plus. The team should be able to win this group, but settling for another silver medal may not meet their expectations this time.
Montenegro had a promising start two years ago before big losses left them with the worst record out of all the teams. The task of surpassing that effort became more difficult when Jelena Skerovic retired, but she will still be on this team as coach. Naturalized players will have less of an impact than expected in this tournament, but Glory Johnson may well end up being the biggest difference maker of any of them and her scoring ability will be needed here. Finding a consistent second scorer like Milica Jovanovic could prove critical in what figures to be the most important game against the Czech Republic with both teams trying to avoid repeat first round eliminations.
Sweden may not have qualified for the last tournament, but they have been a very trendy pick this year. Their share of absences means that the top of the standings may be too tough an ask, but having Amanda Zahui B is certainly an offensive boost that could help them in critical moments. The Eldebrink sisters will be counted on for offense from the backcourt and Binta Drammeh is a less heralded name who could emerge for the team. Getting Regan Magarity in the team now after she was unavailable for qualifiers due to school means that they can continue to integrate young players into the mix with Klara Lundquist being the player that many are excited to see in the near future. This group is weaker than it was when it was on paper originally so there is certainly a good chance for them to finish second here, which could net them a favorable matchup in the first knockout round game.
Hungary’s youth development has been a marvel from a global perspective as their investment into the sport is starting to pay dividends. That talent has not fully developed to completely impact the senior level, but there will be plenty of youth on this roster again. Depth and experience are a major concern as a number of impact players will be missing from this group. Yvonne Turner has played some of her best club basketball in the country and her recent naturalization shows that there are hopes that can translate to this format as well. With point guard play going from a strength to a weakness in two years and a severe lack of post depth, there are plenty of holes to fill in this roster and plenty of chances for somebody new to step up on the big stage. While this may be the weakest group overall, any chance of advancing again is likely to come down to their game with Slovenia.
Italy has been looking for their chance to return to the global stage for a long time and a long-term youth movement has given them some new and exciting options. Many of the veterans that had tried so hard to lead their team in this tournament are now out of the picture and the search for players to replace them has been exhaustive. Giorgia Sottana will be expected to be a key player again and Cecilia Zandalasini is more ready to be one of the leaders now, but young players like Elisa Penna, Lorela Cubaj, and Olbis Futo Andre’ will also have something to contribute. Their ability to bring Nicole Romeo on board in the prime of her career gives them an added dimension that might not have been expected. A one point loss to Turkey prevented them from winning the group last time and that could be the critical matchup again this time with the top spot holding additional significance beyond the bye to the quarterfinals as the winner avoids a dreaded crossover matchup with one of the Group D teams.
Slovenia returns to this stage after starting the last tournament with a pair of impressive performances only to be undone by a poor final game. They have no issue at point guard with Teja Oblak and Nika Baric available to pull the strings. Expecting them to do better than last time might be tough, but the young talent on this team means that they should be expected to continue to come back to this stage. Zala Friskovec is the latest addition to that group, following in the footsteps of Annamaria Prezelj and Eva Lisec. Like the last tournament, Shante Evans will give them additional strength in the paint and if they can catch fire from distance in one of these games, they could succeed where they failed in the last tournament.
Turkey has been a consistent team this decade, making it to the next stage each time, but it has been a while since they have been a genuine medal contender in a tournament. While many of the same names have been included in this edition, the slow transition process continues as the team does not want to ignore past success, but does need to be wary about rivals emerging. Kiah Stokes was chosen as the new naturalized player and is not the only new post player as young Inci Guclu was included and there will be hopes that the tall players will get to face each other in the Hungary-Turkey matchup. Isil Alben will be called upon to be the leader again both on the court and emotionally and they will try to surround her with players who can score from the outside as consistent offense has become the team’s undoing in the past. The group draw here is favorable with a top two finish the only acceptable outcome and the top spot as they expectation, but they will need to be ready for the knockout stages with more teams than usual in position to compete for the qualification places.
Belarus had been planning for a resurgence after being unceremoniously dumped out of the last tournament, but were not feeling any better after seeing their opposition this year. Late hopes of a full strength frontcourt were dashed, but Anastasiya Verameyenka returns to give the team a steadying veteran presence. Maryia Papova will be looking to fill the hole in the paint and the team will be looking for Aliaksandra Tarasava to provide some extra scoring punch alongside their usual backcourt of Tatsiana Likhtarovich, Katsiaryna Snytsina, and Alex Bentley. Without their expected main scoring threat, they will certainly need other players to emerge to avoid early elimination again after having such a string of successful tournaments.
Belgium burst on the scene with a medal in the last tournament and are aiming even higher this time. As always, Emma Meesseman will be the key force in how far they advance. Kim Mestdagh will lead the charge to provide spacing around her and Julie Allemand has continued to grow into her role as a point guard. The team is not quite at the full strength that it could have been when initial roster suggestions were announced, but the core that helped establish them at this level has been kept intact. A roster spot has been used on Ann Wauters despite a lack of club play for her recently, but her veteran presence and experience will certainly be welcomed for the tough games to come. This group will provide them with a supreme challenge and all the teams will have designs on the top spot and a chance to rest for a game.
Russia has fallen short of the global stage multiple times in recent years and they certainly feel that they have paid a big enough price and are ready to return. They had a multiyear plan that revolved around them returning to prominence and there were hiccups in the process, but the young duo of Maria Vadeeva, who has been playing with a vengeance throughout their exhibition slate, and Raisa Musina are ready to lead the team. Evgeniya Belyakova provides a veteran presence and her shooting has been strong in the preparation period. A shakeup in the backcourt could yield interesting results if one of Anna Leshkovtseva or Julia Gladkova emerges as an additional scorer. The team has high expectations, but they will not be able to ease into the tournament with a difficult group and if they once again fail to hit a top six spot, the situation will truly become a crisis for program management.
Serbia will have high expectations as hosts, but they certainly got no advantages from the draw, which will not give them any easy tasks. Marina Maljkovic is back as coach after being so critical to their success, but she did not coach club play in Europe this season so she will have had a lot of catching up to do to be prepared for what their opponents will throw at them. The most important roster news is that Jelena Brooks is ready to return and even though she will need to shake off some rust, she and Sonja Petrovic will be able to create a dynamic duo again with their creativity making the offense hum when they are at their best. While many familiar faces are back, there are some intriguing new names with Nikolina Milic possibly being someone to look out for as a new scoring threat. This group will be tough, but all the teams will still be position to make runs as long as they can qualify. With the home fans behind them for the entire tournament, it’s hard not to see Serbia returning to contender status.