By Paul Nilsen
If you think the recent decision to dispense with Division B for the Men renders the 2010 programme for ‘promotion' somewhat pointless - think again.
For those teams who will fight it out one last time in the second tier, the carrot of an expanded opportunity to make Eurobasket 2013 has made this summer more important than ever.
While actual promotion itself might no longer be the major issue, the once distant dream of reaching a major tournament has suddenly moved into sharp focus for a raft of basketball nations. Make no mistake, this summer will be fiercely competitive with the incentive of an extra eight EuroBasket spots up for grabs a couple of years down the line.
Opportunity has knocked loud and clear for the teams currently languishing outside of Division A and those wanting to take advantage will be acutely aware they need a good couple of summers to realistically capitalise on the changes. For the smaller nations in particular they are getting more excited about the new opportunities that have arisen in the longer term.
|Vlad Moldoveanu will lead Romania against the likes of Sweden and Belarus.|
Luxembourg utility man Martin Ranjiak for instance is one player looking forward to this summers programme with relish. He will line-up against Austria, Estonia and the Netherlands in Group A and can't wait for the action to begin.
"Personally, I am excited for the summer." explained Ranjiak.
"We have a new coach, we have had a couple of good camps and everybody is motivated to play, so I do think we can get some good results."
"I think we got a pretty good Group for us. Certainly Austria could be a good game and I think we can beat them when we play them at home."
"The second game at home is Netherlands and I think they are very tough opponent but we will see and the third game is Estonia, a team that I don't know much about other than I think that it will be a very tough game!"
It's a similar story in Group B where favourites Sweden will probably be relieved more than most at the changes after their disappointing performance in recent years although that doesn't mean they can relax in a pool of teams including Belarus, Albania, Azerbaijan and Romania.
Romania in particular are a young team with real hunger to capitalize big time on the expansion of EuroBasket in years to come and rising star Vlad Moldoveanu underlined the importance of a good performance this time out.
He claimed, "I think we have a balanced group, I think Sweden starts off as the favourite but things can change quickly. We want to win every game and take a serious approach towards qualifying this year, so we can put ourselves in a good position for next year."
Meanwhile in Group C, teams like Switzerland can't wait to test themselves against other similarly ambitious nations currently in Division B such as Czech Republic, Cyprus and Slovak Republic.
Swiss guard Valdimir Buscaglia summed up the mood in the camp ahead of next months games.
"We are looking forward for these games this summer. Our group is a pretty tough one, obviously it is never easy for us. We have been playing Cyprus during many of the previous years and managed to beat them but they are always close games."
"Slovakia also should be interesting because we have not played against them in the last 5 years while Czech Republic is I believe, the number one favourite in this group having only just come from Division A."
"We have the ambition. Our group is pretty young but I hope that we have learned a lot from last our last campaign and gained a little bit more experience."
So, for those teams heading into this last Division B season, dreams of promotion can put to bed but it is clear that the recent turn of events have only further sharpened the focus of improving and edging that little bit closer to the elite teams.
Only now the window of opportunity has been flung well and truly wide-open.