India look to earn a spot among Asia's elite

India look to earn a spot among Asia's elite

Basketball : Hosts begin campaign against Uzbekistan

While the continent’s top teams will be gunning for glory, India will be looking to earn a place among them when the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup begins at the refurbished Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium here from Sunday.

India is in Division B of the tournament and only a first-place finish will ensure them a promotion to Division A for the next edition.

All the Division B matches except for India’s will take place at the Koramangala Indoor Stadium.

The Anitha Paul Durai led side will take on Uzbekistan in their opening Group A game on Sunday before facing Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

India’s best performance in this event was a fifth place finish in 2013. In the following edition in 2015, they were relegated to Division B after going down to Philippines 82-76 in the qualifying round.

The host’s return to the top fold is Basketball Federation of India’s (BFI) first priority. Hence, came the appointment of Serbian Zoran Visic as the head coach of the women’s team last month. But, the team’s performance in the Williams Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei under him was far from satisfactory as the team went winless in the tournament.

Visic, however, believes that the team has improved immensely in the limited period he was accorded. “The players have worked hard. Also, the experience of playing with the Division A teams in the William Jones Cup recently was good. What we need now is more aggression in defence and passing. We have done a lot of work in the short period I was given, ” Visic said.

The hosts will rely heavily on skipper Anitha, the only player to have represented India in eight straight editions, to perform if they are to stand any chance in the tournament.

“The team looks good. We’ve been under Zoran Visic for the past month and are set on achieving our goal of qualifying for Division A. I was there when we last achieved this in 2007, and I know how important this is for the team. We hope to do it in front of our own fans on home soil. That should make for great atmosphere and help the team achieve its goal,” Anitha said.

Forward Grima Merlin Verghese has come in as a replacement for Poojamol KS, who suffered an unfortunate knee injury in the Williams Jones Cup, Visic said.

Australia favourite

Meanwhile in Division A, following the inclusion of Oceania nations -- Australia and New Zealand -- into the competition, the Opals have become the firm favourite to snatch the crown from Japan (reigning champions).

But the confident Aussie centre Marianna Tolo is not taking anything for granted. “This is new for us. We haven’t had to qualify against Asian teams before so its going to be difficult. I think any of the five could make the top four. China and Japan will be tough. Coming out against them in the last Olympics game, we almost lost. So they’ll definitely be a challenge,” Tolo said.

The Opals play their opening Group B game against South Korea on Sunday.

Team: Geetha Anjana Prasannan, Barkha Sonkar, Raspreet Sidhu, Anitha Paul Durai (captain), Grima Merlin Varghese, Navaneetha Pattemane Udayakumar, Kavita Akula, Rajapriyadarshini Rajaganapathi, Jeena Palanilkumkalayil Skaria, Shireen Vijay Limaye, Poonam Chaturvedi. 

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