Australia’s Opals will face Belgium for their first knockout match at the women’s basketball World Cup in Sydney this Thursday after dodging an early meeting with tournament favourites USA.
The structure of the World Cup draw is such that the top-two teams in one group are drawn randomly against the bottom two from the other, meaning the first and second-placed teams could meet either the third or fourth-placed team from the opposite side of the draw.
Australia finished on top of Group B by defeating Japan 71-54 on Tuesday night and will avoid meeting Group A winners the USA until the tournament final, should both sides get there.
The Opals had been a chance to face either Belgium or Puerto Rico, who finished third and fourth in Group A, respectively.
The FIBA draw at Qudos Bank Arena late on Tuesday night confirmed the tournament hosts would face Belgium and Canada would meet Puerto Rico.
Australia last played Belgium at the Tokyo Olympics, where they succumbed to a 85-70 loss in their first match of the Games.
But this time around, the Belgians will be without their best player Emma Meesseman, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a calf injury.
With a win, Australia will advance to a semi-final against either China or France.
Ranked third in the world, Australia (4-1) will go into their match against fifth-ranked Belgium as favourites but Opals coach Sandy Brondello has warned her side not to take their rivals lightly.
“You can’t underestimate any team below you because it’s just one game,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that we stay focused and we play our game.”
Serbia are the team that has drawn against the USA, who set a team record for most consecutive World Cup wins (27) with their defeat of Bosnia & Herzegovina on Tuesday.
WORLD CUP QUARTER-FINALS
United States v Serbia, Thursday at 12pm (AEST)
Puerto Rico v Canada ,2.30pm
China v France, 6pm
Belgium v Australia, 8.30pm
(All matches at Qudos Bank Arena on Thursday)