It was for sure the strongest event at the European Para Championships. There were eight teams of them. Eight quarterfinalists who could have reached all four semifinals and/or finals. Who could have become champions. But in the end, after eight games, only one team was allowed to claim the European title. Great Britain got the honor it deserved on Saturday night: European champion wheelchair basketball.
They had come to the Netherlands with feelings of revenge. At the last European Championship, the British did not play the final. Covid was the culprit. The Netherlands was awarded the title, a decision the Brits found hard to accept. “We wanted our title back, you could say that”, Lee Manning, top scorer with 23 points, told. “We haven’t lost a game in Europe since 2017, so it didn’t feel particularly fair that we didn’t have that title.”
Against Spain, it was not easy to distance themselves at first. But after the break a real difference emerged. Inside the British dominated, especially when Ignacio Pincho Ortega (21 points) on the Spanish side got into foul trouble. Via 56-47 after three quarters it eventually became 74-53. Manning: “We just had to get this job done. Spain is also a tough opponent. You know they will make things difficult for you if you slack off for a bit.” Manning praised the opposition in Rotterdam. “This tournament was another perfect example of how strong we all are here. We’ve really got it together in Europe, we’re going to show that in 2024, in Paris.”
Spaniard Ignacio Pincho Ortega knew in advance that it would be a tough job to beat the British. “Their talent is incredible, they have been showing it for years. Unfortunately it didn’t fall our way, but I’m proud of our team. We have a ticket to Paris and, as number two in Europe, we definitely have a chance of winning prizes there as well. Europe is, this tournament has shown again, really very strong.”
The bronze went to the Netherlands. In the duel for bronze, Germany was defeated. After three quarters, the Netherlands had a large lead (45-32), but at 47-46 it did not seem so certain anymore that the Dutch would win a medal. In the last few minutes, Cees van Rootselaar’s team, outgoing champions, secured a medal after all.
Guard Quinten Zantinge, also significant in scoring with 12 points, agrees with Manning and Ortega that Europe is super strong. “Maybe Great Britain is still just a little bit stronger than the rest, but there are eight teams that on a good day can all win from each other”, he said.
The Dutch, who had come to Rotterdam to capture a Paralympic ticket, had 48 hours to recover from the defeat against Spain in the semifinals. Zantinge: “It was pretty hard to get ready for this match, the disappointment was of course big. But we knew there would be a lot of crowd in front of us and we always enjoy playing against the Germans. I am proud that we played a good match, even if we would have preferred to be in the final a few hours later.”
“I, like my teammates, will now take a few weeks off and then we will still hunt for a Paralympic ticket. I am confident that we will still get it next spring.”