Eurobasket Women tipped off today in Hungary and Romania as the road to the Rio Olympics all of a sudden feels that little bit more real.
And twenty teams have now began the fight for the one ticket to Brazil next summer.
Montenegro bested the Czech Republic 71-52 in Timisoara in the opening clash of Group A as what looked to be a closely-fought contest on paper turned into a one sided clash.
Despite narrowing the gap from 14 points down to five in the third quarter, the Czechs always looked second best against a well-organised Montenegrin outfit, led by Angel Robinson’s 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Jelena Skerovic, Jelene Dubljevic and Iva Perovanovic each had 11 points for the winners, while Michaela Stejskalova led Czech Republic with 16.
France were given an early fright, but they regrouped in the second quarter and in the end, recorded a comfortable 79-55 success over Ukraine.
The French stormed back after trailing 21-20 after one and offensively moved the ball well before finding easy scoring opportunities. But the biggest factor was their defence, especially containing Ukraine’s star player Alina Iagupova, who after a hot start went 1/7 from the field in the second half.
Sandrine Gruda led France with 18 points, while Iagupova led all scorers in vain with 19 for the Ukraine.
Hosts Romania play tomorrow against Montenegro.
On an exciting day of action in Oradea, Belarus outlasted Italy 85-76 after a session of overtime.
The two teams could not be separated at the end of regulation at 73-73 but as overtime began, Italy’s weaknesses were evident as they fatigued quickly, allowing the Belorussians to overpower their counterparts in the extra session.
Veteran Yelena Leuchanka paced Belarus with 25 points and 14 rebounds, while Georgia Sottana gave her all by leading the Italians with 19.
Turkey edged Poland 57-54 in the other Group B clash as the contest came down to the last thirty seconds.
Bahar Caglar gave the Turks the lead, forcing Poland to call a timeout. When play resumed, Poland had two chances to grab the win, but Ewelina Kobryn and Katarzyna Krezel’s three-point efforts were unsuccessful.
LaToya Pringle led Turkey with 16 points with Kobryn pacing the Poles with a game-high 24.
Greece begin their campaign tomorrow against Italy.
Russia and Serbia both made statements in what is supposedly one of the tougher groups to predict.
The 2011 Eurobasket Women winners Russia came out easy 83-62 victors over Croatia in Szombathely.
New York Liberty star Epiphanny Prince paced the Russians with 16 points as they took control early before holding the Croats to just seven points in the third to seal the win.
Serbia were also impressive in beating Latvia 76-60 as they pulled away in the third quarter after a physical, but close battle in the first half.
Sonja Petrovic led Serbia with 19 points.
Great Britain will play their first game tomorrow against Russia.
Reigning Eurobasket Women champions Spain were impressive in their 72-58 success over Lithuania in Sopron, thanks mainly to a first quarter, defensive masterclass that ended with the Baltic nation only scoring five points.
After that, Spain kept Lithuania at bay and began their defence in impressive fashion.
Astou Ndour led Spain with a double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds.
The other Group D clash saw Slovak Republic come from behind to pip Sweden 72-69.
Trailing 40-30 at the half, the Slovakians chipped away at the lead in the third quarter and were able to tie the game at 53-53 heading into the fourth quarter before hanging on to win at the free throw line.
At 35-years-old, Zuzana Žirková is still able to put a team on her back as she led the comeback and posted impressive numbers of 26 points and six rebounds for the winners.
Hosts Hungary play Sweden tomorrow.