Georgia is slowly gaining popularity as a tourist destination because of its beautiful nature. The Belgian Lions will not notice much of that in the next few days. Their European Championship starts today in the Georgian capital Tibilisi and promises to be well worth following for very different reasons. Your “travel guide” to the European Basketball Championship.
The strongest European Championship ever, with 37 NBA stars
Today is the first day of the European Championship (1-18 September). Spread over 4 host cities, 24 countries compete in the group stage. And there are very beautiful people among them. Three of the best players in the world get into action.
Nikola Jokic (this and last year elected MVP of the regular NBA season), Luka Doncic (star of the Dallas Mavericks) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (MVP in 2019 and 2020) want to become European champions with their countries.
In total there are 37 NBA players on the registration form. You will also see them at work in the matches of the Belgians. Starting tonight at 7pm against Georgia, where Goga Bitadze with his 2.13m threatens to be a scourge under the ring.
“The European Championship always started with a circle of three or four teams that competed for the overall victory, but now I think it is the strongest European Championship ever”, Belgian national coach Dario Gjergja looked ahead.
At the previous European Championship in 2017, Slovenia took gold, Serbia silver and Spain bronze. Those same countries are now fighting for the medals again, but there are still contenders. France, Lithuania, Turkey and Germany also have strong teams. “Eight to ten teams can become European champions,” says Gjergja.
Hellish atmosphere in the Tibilisi Arena
The Belgian Lions are there for the fifth time in a row at the European Championship. They play their group matches in Tibilisi and will immediately need your support.
The atmosphere in the opening match against host country Georgia tonight will be hostile and the selection also includes many European Championship debutants.
In the Tibilisi Arena, which was built especially for the European Championship, 10,000 (perhaps frantic) home fans will do everything to impress the Lions.
“It will be a big day for Georgian basketball and we know it will be hostile, but I think this should give us extra motivation,” captain Maxime De Zeeuw prepared.
“We will not understand half of what they are going to say and that is the best for us,” national coach Gjergja also joked about this during the press conference.
A Belgian debutant of 27 years
It will be their debut at the European Championship for five Belgian Lions. Retin Obasohan, Hans Vanwijn, Alexandre Libert, Haris Bratanovic and Vrenz Bleijenbergh were never there before. Loïc Schwartz could have been the sixth debutant, but together with Quintin Serron he dropped out on Wednesday.
Hans Vanwijn will make his European Championship debut at the age of 27. It should have been his second European Championship, but after taking part in the entire preparation five years ago, he had to drop out in the final week with a hamstring injury. Now he is fit.
“I have been looking forward to this for a long time. We have had a month of preparation, now we are ready for the European Championship”, he sounds confident.
The national coach already indicated that results are not the only thing this European Championship is all about for Belgium. After the departure of Axel Hervelle and Sam Van Rossom, renewal is necessary. Playing a major tournament should help shape the future.
The main goal of the trip to Georgia is to win a plane ticket to Berlin, because the knockout phase will be played in the German capital after the group stage.
That will certainly not be easy. The Lions are in a tough group with Bulgaria, Montenegro, Georgia, Turkey and Spain. The top four qualify for the final phase. “We have to win at least two matches to continue”, Hans Vanwijn realizes.
Bulgaria and Montenegro may feel targeted. “Yes, but Montenegro is certainly not a bad team”, Vanwijn knows. “There are also opportunities against Georgia, but that is not easy because of their home advantage.”
The Belgians still had no chance against Greece in the World Cup qualifier last week. Lessons must be learned from that. “We showed too much respect. That’s why we started that game badly. We must not make that mistake again,” emphasizes national coach Gjergja.
You can watch and follow all group matches of the Belgian Lions on the Sporza channels.
The Belgian selection
- Manu Lecomte, no team yet, last season Jonava (Lit)
- Jean-Marc Mwema, Antwerp Giants
- Jonathan Tabu, no team yet, last season Limburg United
- Pierre-Antoine Gillet, Filou Ostend
- Maxime De Zeeuw, Limburg United
- Kevin Tumba, Circus Brussels
- Ismael Bako, Bologna (Ita)
- Hans Vanwijn, Nanterre (Fra)
- Alex Libert, Spirou Charleroi
- Vrenz Bleijenbergh, Filou Ostend
- Haris Bratanovic, Filou Ostend
- Retin Obasohan, Lyon (Fra)
belgian lions at EK basketball
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The top 4 advance to the 1/8th finals. The European Championship is organized in Germany, Georgia, Italy and the Czech Republic. The Belgian Lions play their group matches in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.