Belgium and Spain join USA, Australia in World Cup semifinals

Emma Meesseman of Belgium is familiar with her U.S. opponents from playing with the Washington Mystics. Photo Courtesy of FIBA.
Emma Meesseman of Belgium is familiar with her U.S. opponents from playing with the Washington Mystics. Photo Courtesy of FIBA. /

Belgium and Spain complete the FIBA World Cup semifinals.

SAN CRISTOBAL de la LAGUNA, Spain – So who had Belgium in the bracket for the semifinals of the FIBA Women’s World Cup? The U.S., Australia and Spain – kind of like an international UConn, Notre Dame and South Carolina, but Belgium is the Cinderella at this dance.

“We knew it was possible,” Belgium forward Emma Meesseman told High Post Hoops, “but nobody believed it.”

Belgium will play the U.S. on Saturday night, while Australia faces Spain for a spot in Sunday’s final. Ranked 28th in the world, Belgium never trailed and went ahead by as many as 28 in its 86-65 win over the third-ranked team in France.

Meesseman, who scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the win, plays for the Washington Mystics, but trained this season with the national team, rather than play in the U.S. She said her experience playing in the WNBA makes the American players less intimidating and more familiar.

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“I am happy for my teammates to play against all of these stars,” Meesseman added. “They really look up to them. I want to show them we can beat them because they are not perfect. That’s the dream team, but maybe we are too.”

Until placing third at last year’s EuroBasket in the Czech Republic, the Belgians had no major international tournaments on their resume. They struggled just to qualify for the European Championships, having done so only twice in 30 years until 2017’s breakout.

The Cleveland Rockers drafted center Ann Wauters first overall in 2000, and she will turn 38 in October- four days before Sue Bird does the same. Wauters, who plays in Turkey, last played in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016 and won the league title. Before that, she hadn’t played in the U.S. since 2012 in Seattle.

“I’m lucky,” Wauters said. “I’ve won championships in other countries, but it’s special with my own national team. We’re not doing it as individuals, we’re doing it as a team.”

Belgian coach Philip Mestdagh’s two daughters, Kim and Hanne, both of whom played in the U.S. for the Colorado State Rams, are on the team, and Kim led all players with 23 points in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Spain’s win over Canada was a real nail biter until the fourth quarter, when the host nation reminded the Canadians that Santiago Martin Arena doesn’t have an ice surface beneath its court. Trailing by three after third quarter, Spain pulled into a 68-53 win, allowing only three Canadian points in the fourth.

“We just need to be a team,” Spain guard Marta Xargay said of how to beat Australia in the semifinal. “It’s true that (Australian center Liz) Cambage plays really well and is a really good player, but I think we just need to get together on defense and be a team.”