Norway wary of Ireland threat to their rebuilding programme

Norwegian women’s basketball head coach Gunnar Nesbo expects a “very tough” battle with Ireland in tonight’s FIBA Women’s European Championship for Small Countries game (Mardyke, 6.15pm).

“We’re very happy to be in Ireland, it’s a beautiful place and we’re obviously enjoying our visit, but we’re also here to compete in the tournament.

“Obviously in front of a packed arena, with supporters who know them all, playing on their home court, Ireland are going to be a very tough opponent.

But we’re trying not to let that be our focus, whose court it is or who’s at home, we’re going out to do our best.

“Playing Ireland, who are probably going to be one of the better teams at this tournament, in our first game is going to be difficult.

“It’s also going to be our first real test as a team, so it’s a very important game if we want to proceed from the group stage. It’s certainly important, and a difficult challenge.”

Norway began their preparations for the tournament in mid-May: “We have some players who are away at college but they came back for training, so they were able to participate in our training.

“We had five weekends to prepare, which is good, but on the other hand we haven’t had any practice games - tonight’s game will be our first of the season.

“In terms of injuries, we’ve had one or two in the last couple of weeks but in general we’re happy with the squad. We’ve been unfortunate with a couple of the injuries but overall we’re happy.”

The Norwegian players may be getting to know each other as they train together - the country didn’t have a senior women’s team in recent years - but Nesbo is positive ahead of the tournament opener.

Obviously the first game is very important,” he says. “It’s not just about the first time you get to play against the home team, but it’s important for the tournament as a whole. Any time we go out to play we go out thinking we’re going to compete and going to win.

“That’s obviously our outlook going into this tournament, we’re looking for success, but we also know how hard it’s going to be with a strong Irish squad against us.

“We’re out to do the best we can but we expect a very difficult challenge this evening.

“We really don’t know a lot about some of the other teams. We know that Luxembourg usually compete in the qualifiers for the European Championships, though, so we know they’ll be strong.

“Denmark are in the other group and we’d expect them to be very solid. In Norway we haven’t had a national team programme for the last seven or eight years and we’re starting to build again now, but it’s the same deal for Denmark, they’re starting to build again now.

“So they’ll probably be strong competitors, but I don’t want to leave anybody out, the standard is high and there are a lot of very good teams at this tournament.

“I’d expect a lot of very closely-fought, competitive games this week.”

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