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Looking at the Opals' World Cup Group B opponents
The Opals now know who they'll face in the group stage at the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup in Sydney. There are no easy beats in their group and every game will have huge ramifications.
Image credit: FIBA
The 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup, to be held in Sydney, is now 199 days away and after Thursday night’s draw, the task ahead of the Opals has become clearer. With six teams in each group, the Opals will play five group games all in hope of qualifying to the quarter-finals and beyond.
The draw yielded very even results, with both groups boasting world powerhouses and nations quickly rising up the rankings. With the Opals being drawn to Group B, it’s time to focus on their group play opponents.
France | Game 1 – Thursday, September 22
France has fallen to sixth in the world, having been overtaken by Belgium in the latest rankings.
The French claimed a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, which was a strong result, but their play at the more recent World Cup qualifiers raised plenty of questions as they were thumped by China, 103-70, and also lost a nail-biter to Nigeria, 67-65, who stormed back into the contest.
Admittedly, they weren’t at full strength, but the results show they’re struggling with depth and averaging 25 turnovers per game simply didn’t cut it. France has work to do before the World Cup as they look to solidify their rotation around the likes of Gabby Williams, Marine Johannes and Sandrine Gruda.
Nigeria | Game 2 – Friday, September 23
Nigeria continues to climb up the world rankings and currently sit at number 14 in the world. They are a physical team who will never back from a challenge, highlighted by their incredible 20-point comeback against France at the World Cup qualifiers in Serbia earlier this year. They had no business winning that game, but veteran Victoria Macaulay – who has WNBA experience – led her team home with 19 points, 5 steals, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Nigeria went winless at the Tokyo Olympics, finishing 11th overall, but they were in an extremely tough group consisting of USA, Japan and France. To their credit, they gave USA a run for their money as they jumped out of the gates to take a quarter-time lead, before falling by nine points, 81-72, after USA dominated the second and third quarters.
Nigeria is the number one ranked team in Africa – and the only African team to qualify for the World Cup – and after a historic quarter-final appearance at the 2018 World Cup, they will be out to keep making history in 2022.
Serbia | Game 3 – Sunday, September 25
Serbia has long been one of the premier women’s basketball teams in the world and despite losing the bronze medal game to France at the Tokyo Olympics, it was another solid campaign by the Serbians.
Despite some recent retirements, headlined by forward Jelena Brooks, Serbia showed they remain a real threat to Australia when they took care of business at home against the Opals at the World Cup qualifiers.
In what was the most intense game of the qualifying tournament, Australia held a three-point lead at the final break, but it wasn’t enough as Serbia’s suffocating defence ultimately led them to a 78-71 win.
Yvonne Anderson torched the Opals in that game, finishing with a game-high 30 points as she fiercely attacked the paint and made timely shots when her team needed it most.
The loss really highlighted the Opals’ struggles at times to take care of the ball and not get overwhelmed by full-court and hawking defence. It’s obviously easier said than done, but one of the keys for Australia at the World Cup will be finding the right point guard mix that is capable of supporting Sami Whitcomb.
Canada | Game 4 – Monday, September 26
Canada is the fourth ranked team in the world for a reason and despite underachieving at the Tokyo Olympics with a ninth-placed finish, they are capable of being a threat.
Canada’s hopes of a deep run may rest on the health of star guard Kia Nurse, who is currently recovering from a ruptured ACL sustained during the 2021 WNBA Finals in October. An ACL injury usually takes about 12 months to come back from, so she will be racing the clock to be ready for the bright lights in Sydney.
Nurse is a player familiar to Australian basketball fans, having won two WNBL Championships (2019 and 2020) with the Canberra Capitals as well as being crowned 2020 WNBL MVP.
Even if Nurse doesn’t make the trip, Canada will still have serious talent on their roster, headlined by young gun Bridget Carleton. She was the team’s second-leading scorer (11.3 points per game) in Tokyo – despite struggling from deep – and at the World Cup qualifiers, she averaged 20 points, including a dominant 28-point outing (6/7 on threes) against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Japan | Game 5 – Tuesday, September 27
Japan has become one of the most exciting teams to watch in world basketball, led by point guard magician Rui Machida. They employ a run and gun style of play which causes headaches for many teams as they simply wear opponents out.
Machida led the Olympics in assists, with an incredible 12.5 per game – the next best was Belgium’s Julie Allemand with 7.5 per game. Machida is the key to everything Japan does, and she recently signed with the Washington Mystics to make her WNBA debut this coming season. One can only think that with a season of WNBA under her belt, Machida will head to the World Cup with even more experience and knowledge.
Japan was without Machida and two of their top three scorers from the Tokyo Olympics in their World Cup qualifying games against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Canada, so their team will look very different in Sydney, but they still managed to claim an 86-79 win against Canada, with Stephanie Muwali top scoring (18 points).
While much of the focus will be on Machida, Japan have many contributors every time they step on the floor, with the likes of Maki Takada and Himawari Akoha play vital roles.
As the two top-ranked teams in the tournament, Australia and USA were always going to be in separate groups – a bonus for the Opals (and every other team in Group B) initially, but they will have to hope a crossover in the quarter-finals is avoided. Australia also avoids two teams in the group stage who could give them serious trouble; Belgium and China, both of whom beat the Opals in Tokyo.
With four of the six teams from each group progressing past the group stage, Australia will have to be alert from the opening tip of their first game against France. There will be no easy beats for the Opals in Group B - a slip up in any game could spell the end of the road and with a hopes of returning to the podium on home soil, they won’t have any time to ease into things.