BEIJING, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) — Facing an uphill battle in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic women’s basketball tournament, the Chinese national team is concentrating on self-improvement amid the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
China will play against Australia, Puerto Rico and Belgium in the group phase of the Olympic Games.
“We cannot control some external factors such as the pandemic and opponents, but we can spare no efforts in escalating to another level and striving for better results,” China head coach Xu Limin told Xinhua in an exclusive interview recently.
China won all the three Olympic qualifying matches in Belgrade in February last year, which boosted the Chinese people in their fight against the epidemic.
But the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021 produced uncertainties.
Without international matches for nearly a year, everybody found it difficult to observe opponents.
Xu admitted that it takes some time for national players to turn their attention to the international duties, as they have just finished their league campaign and are facing qualifiers for China’s 14th National Games.
“The pandemic prevented us from taking some regular methods to warm up for major tournaments,” Xu noted.
World No. 2 Australia, also the runner-up at the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup, boasts 2.03-meter-tall center Elizabeth Cambage and experienced guard Rebecca Allen.
China had edged off Australia at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2019, but as Cambage didn’t play then, so the result could not reflect Australia’s full strength.
Belgium, the 2018 World Cup semifinalist, has witnessed the progress of their power forward Emma Meesseman, who was named into the All-Star Five of the tournament, and won the WNBA championship with the Washington Mystics and the Finals MVP honor one year later.
China and Belgium shared the spoils in their recent head-to-heads. Xu deemed Belgium as a main rival in contending for the second place of the group.
China had few encounters in recent years with Puerto Rico, which is regarded as an “X-factor” in this group.
“There is no minnow in the group, and nothing is impossible on the Olympic stage,” said Xu.
Another factor that piles up the uncertainty is the new competition system starting from the Tokyo 2020.
Different from two groups of six teams each in the past, the new system witnesses 12 Olympic participants drawn into three groups of four teams each, and the top two sides from each group and the two best third-placers qualify for the final phase.
“It requires us to fight from the very first game and try to garner as many points as we can,” Xu noted.
“We have envisaged huge pressure and difficulties as many of our players are Olympic debutants,” Xu told Xinhua.
“We, as always, will display a strong mentality and try to live up to expectations. What really matters is playing for ourselves,” he stressed. Enditem