With the FIBA World Cup qualifers stealing the spotlight this week, along with the regular round of EuroLeague fixtures mixed in, it’s understandable to forget about a full line-up of Eurobasket 2021 pre-qualifiers that also takes place, starting Thursday.
Cyprus begin their campaign on their home floor as they take on Portugal in the capital Nicosia and with minnows Luxembourg also in the pile, making up Group C, the Cypriots will fancy their chances of advancing to the second phase of qualification, something that veteran point guard Simon Michail relishes.
The winning team from each of the three groups in this first round of qualification, plus the best second-placed team, will each earn a spot in the Eurobasket 2021 pre-qualifiers second stage, together with the bottom-placed teams from each of the eight groups of the FIBA World Cup 2019 qualifiers.
Earlier this summer, a number of European nations who missed out on playing at Eurobasket 2017 took the chance to try and qualify for the FIBA World Cup via the European pre-qualifiers.
Interestingly, Cyprus forewent this opportunity, playing in the 2017 Games of the Small States of Europe in late May, before giving their players the summer off.
“We just tried to regroup,” said Michail.
“We tried two summers ago to make it to FIBA Eurobasket, but we lost to Iceland twice and we didn’t make the final cut. I think we just needed to reset our minds and strategize what we could do better. We took that time to readjust a few things, regroup and set new goals and targets and try again this year.”
And with that summer free, something which the new FIBA windows allow, is something that Michail is particularly fond of.
“I like the idea because it gives you the opportunity to individually work during the summer. That was one of the main issues of why people did not want to participate in the national team.
“In summer, you either want to rest, be with your family or work on your individual skills. Having a national team, being in the team and the group, you could not really do that – you had to focus on the task ahead. But now, having these games in between, you get a change of environment during the season and that is pretty good because it releases your mind.”
Following Thursday’s game with Portugal, Cyprus travel to Luxembourg in Feburary in a game that they are targeting as a must-win.
(FIBA contributed to this feature)