Israel opens its 2023 FIBA Women’s EuroBasket campaign against Belgium on Thursday (18:15 IDT / 11:15 EDT) at Tel Aviv’s Shlomo Group Arena – Drive In. It’s going to be a big challenge for the home team, as the Cats are ranked seventh in the world by FIBA.
“The Belgium team is second in Europe and they deserve the respect, they earned it,” Israeli coach Sharon Drucker said prior to the matchup. “But we are not looking at them but at us. We showed in the exhibition games that we can compete against medium-level teams now and Belgium is the highest, let’s see what we can do against them.”
“We come every game to win and Belgium is our first target,” Israeli captain Eden Rotberg said. “They are the second-best team overall, but we have to concentrate on ourselves. We have been working hard for a year-and-a-half for this moment and we have to show it.”
Belgium boasts a star roster, including captain Emma Meesseman, who is coming off a EuroLeague championship with Fenerbache, a tournament during which she was also named MVP. She’s not going to be distracted from the Cats’ goal of bettering the Bronze that they won in 2021.
“I never really think about the past season,” Meesseman said. “This is another team, different kind of basketball, different role for me too. I’m just always trying to bring my best, whatever the team needs from me. I have to be a leader here too, as I was in Fener, but it’s still going to be different. I’m just going to try to give my best and do whatever coach asks from me.”
There will be familiar faces on both sides of the court, with Meesseman having played with Israeli star, Jennie Simms, with the Washington Mystics back in 2017.
“I was just so proud of how she came back and kept fighting and working hard,” Meesseman said of Simms, who was waived by the Mystics during that 2017-18 campaign. “Now she’s playing as the star player of a national team in Europe – it’s just amazing to see her grow that much.
“What are we going to try to do to stop her? I think anything in our power. I know it’s going to be hard, because she basically plays all positions. I know she’s a hard worker, so we will all need to work double-y as hard maybe just in order to stop her. I know that they deserve to be here and we’re just going to have to be ready for that first home game for them.”
Belgium’s squad also includes Maxuella Lisowa Mbaka, who has spent time playing with Elitzur Ramla in Israel.
“I cannot say that it’s an advantage, but for sure, we asked Maxuella what she thinks about the players,” Belgium coach Rachid Meziane said. “She gave us some advice, so we will see. But players are different when they play with the national team, some of the roles are different, so we will see. But I cannot consider that it’s a big advantage.”
While they may be underdogs, we can be sure that Israel will leave everything on the court as they play in front of their family and friends.
“Our expectation, if someone knows the history of women’s basketball and the EuroBasket, our goal is to show something special,” Drucker said. “I think we have a group of ladies that are very determined and very big motivated – honestly, I haven’t seen this level of motivation in a long time. They want to go and play, to show, to prove and I think for all the fans, all the young generation that will come and watch our national team. Our goal is that they will see heart, they will see them giving the maximum on the floor and they will show pride.”