By Dmitry Baranovsky
Rimantas Grigas’ girls could have found themselves in the play-offs without achieving a single victory in the second stage. However, a good performance at the European Championship has created a ‘safety margin’ for the future. Defeat by Lithuania hardly counted against the national squad, which was primarily represented by its ‘B team’ players. Serbia’s victory was unexpected however; the 48:54 defeat was a wake-up call, since a Belarusian win would have ensured the team’s place in the play-offs. No doubt, this sharp realisation steeled the girls in their match against the British and, although defeat wouldn’t have automatically knocked us out, their confident victory with a gap of ten points has helped greatly. By the final whistle, the score was 71:61, thanks to a show of initiative in the fourth quarter. The UK national squad, despite having been equal in strength throughout the match, failed to close the gap. Our team is, accordingly, through to the European Championship quarter-finals. The following match, against tournament hosts France (also the favourite) didn’t greatly help Belarus, regardless of their efforts; a 50:58 defeat (7:12, 13:14, 14:19, 16:13).
Their previous defeat by Serbia did have its influence, since a higher place in the group would probably have helped them avoid meeting their serious rival so early in the play-offs.. Alas, the Belarusian team is left in third place. Our girls are now presented with the world’s strongest squads; their fate is in their own hands.