Each Olympic cycle represents new challenges and new opportunities. For example, despite a basketball team's success at a previous Olympics (even for the previous silver or bronze medalist), there's no guarantee it will book a spot in the next Olympic tournament.
Such is the case for the Japan women's national team, which earned the silver medal at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics in August 2021. It was a breakthrough performance on the global stage for Akatsuki Japan.
That was then, this is now.
Unlike some rapidly expanding events such as the FIFA World Cup (increasing to 48 teams for the 2026 extravaganza from 32 in 2022), both the men's and women's Olympic basketball tournaments only feature 12 national squads.
Entering February 2024, two nations had automatic berths for the women's tournament, which starts in late July, at the Paris Olympics: the United States, winner of the 2022 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, and France as the host nation.
From Thursday through Sunday, February 8-11, the other 10 spots were up for grabs at a quartet of sites (in China, Belgium, Brazil and Hungary) during the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Japan was assigned to compete for a spot in the Paris Games in Sopron, Hungary, with three games over the four-day stretch.
How the Japan Women's Basketball Team Has Fared in Hungary
In its opening game on Thursday, Japan, ranked ninth in the world, defeated No 4 Spain 86-75.
On Friday, a victory would have clinched a spot for Japan in the Paris tournament. But world No 19 Hungary upset Japan 81-75.
That created a logjam entering the final day of qualifying in Hungary. World No 5 Canada, Japan, Hungary and Spain all have 1-1 records. Furthermore, three of the teams in Hungary will advance to the Olympics.
On Sunday, Japan meets Canada and Hungary takes on Spain. The Japan-Canada match is set to tip off at 11 PM JST.
In their most recent matchup in Sydney, Canada beat Japan 70-56 at the 2022 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup.
Disappointment After Losing to Hungary
For Japan head coach Toru Onzuka, who replaced former national team bench boss Tom Hovasse after the Tokyo Olympics, Friday's defeat was disappointing and created a sense of urgency heading into the clash with Canada.
"We really wanted to win. I'm very frustrated," Onzuka told reporters, according to Kyodo News. "We let them get on a roll and play comfortably, using the home advantage."
Onzuka added, "We'll look to play Japan's style of basketball throughout the 40 minutes against Canada."
Speaking to reporters, Miyazaki said, "I'm disappointed that we lost. But we still have a game against Canada, so I want to switch things up and do my best."
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Author: Ed Odeven