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Basketball - 20. November 2012.

SWE - A Scandinavian success story

STOCKHOLM (EuroBasket Women/FIBA World Championship for Women) - The 16th of June 2012, is an important day in Swedish basketball history.

That is the date that the Scandinavians proved they could weather a storm, that losing a game at the start of a Qualification Round for the EuroBasket Women at Romania did not have to foreshadow bad things to come.

The Swedes had no real history of success in women's basketball when it comes to European championships.

No one would have batted an eye had they suffered several more defeats and failed to qualify for next year's EuroBasket Women.

They responded to that 66-59 setback in Targoviste with grit and resolve, though.

Sweden reeled off seven straight victories to win Group D and confirm their status as a team on the rise.

For a national side that is trying to get over the hump, trying to prove it belongs among the elite, a defeat to begin a Qualification Round can be devastating.

It was not, though, for Sweden.

"Most of the players, we had this history where we lost to Holland a couple of years ago and I think all of those emotions came back," Sweden coach Lars Johansson said to FIBA.com.

"But we tried after the loss to Romania to block that out.

"We had a team meeting the day after, with a plane to catch (back to Sweden), and we knew the group was going to be tough."

Johansson went from coach to psychologist and reminded his players that one defeat is not ruinous.

There wasn't much room for error in a group that also included Spain, Germany and Bulgaria.

However, the Swedes ended up beating each twice, including world number six Spain.

They also thumped Romania the second time around, 93-78.

Sweden played so well that they clinched a spot in the EuroBasket Women before the Qualification Round had even finished.

"We went into the summer knowing the (second) Germany game could be decisive," Johansson said.

"We couldn't believe it that when we played them, it was already set.

"Beating Spain (78-69) at home in our second game really helped us to turn it on.

"After that, we were really cruising. Our confidence was high."

Refusing to lose

For a side like Sweden that was dreaming of a spot in the EuroBasket, confidence is a funny thing.

Being overconfident is bad, but so is having a lack of self-belief.

Cracks did show in that second game against Spain.

"You never know what would have happened had we lost that game," Johansson said.

"We were up by a lot of points early in the fourth quarter, then we got a little bit shaky.

"But we ended up winning."

A level playing field

While the United States, the defending World and Olympic champions, are the undisputed number one team in women's basketball, there does appear to be balance with respect to the other top teams in the sport.

Evidence of that was seen when Spain, who won the bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women, failed to reach the Quarter-Finals of the EuroBasket Women 2011 and crashed out of contention for a spot at the London Games.

There were also results at the Olympics that showed a level playing field, particularly in Europe.

France made it to the Final, yet only scraped their way past the Czech Republic in the Quarter-Finals, 71-68.

Turkey very nearly upset Russia in the last eight in London, falling 66-63.

The French, Russians, Turks and Czechs are maybe a notch above the rest in Europe, but they certainly are not unbeatable.

There was balance in the Qualification Round for the EuroBasket Women.

Even in Group D, while Sweden lost just once in eight games, Johansson never believed that his team was head and shoulders above the rest.

"I totally agree, we could have lost any game on any given day and beaten them on any day," he said.

"If you take away France, Russia and maybe the Czechs, from teams five to 16, it's really close.

"It can go either way.

"The top 10 teams, if you play them 10 times, they can maybe win seven but there are no standout powerhouses.

"There are some better teams, and some teams that are close."

Next Year

For that reason, the belief that on any given day Sweden can go up against star-laden and experienced sides and have a chance, Johansson and his players are not quaking in their boots ahead of next year's EuroBasket, despite having been drawn against Russia, Spain and Italy in Group B.

If anything, the Swedes are rejoicing.

"I think we have the hardest draw and everyone told us after that we have the 'group of death'," Johansson said.

"But I have been coaching this team for four years and for four years, we've been craving to play the best competition.

"It would be bad for us to complain.

"We weren't the favorite in the qualifications and we won't be the favorite this time, but we think we can get through to the second round.

"If you are lucky and get a win, we can progress."

How far has women's basketball in Sweden come in a very short space of time?

Sweden were recently in Division B!

"If you go back three years, you would say it would be a learning experience," Johansson said of next year's EuroBasket Women games.

"Now, we will go to try and win games and advance to the second round to begin with."

Right now, everyone in Sweden is feeling good about the women's team.

Adulation has not been in short supply.

But coaches normally hear praise after wins, and criticism following defeats.

It's been the former for Johansson.

"I am getting a lot of credit," he said.

"It's been a great summer, everyone is getting congratulations.

"But that's life.

"We still have to remember history and remember we haven't had success on the senior level.

"We have to be humble."

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