Paris Olympics; Australian Opals go undefeated in qualifying tournament in Brazil

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Three wins from three games at the Olympic qualifying event in Brazil has given renewed hope the Opals are on track to remind the world their Tokyo disaster was a one-off with coach Sandy Brondello declaring they “won’t waste a day” in preparing for Paris.

The Aussies closed out the tournament with a nail-biting win over Serbia to deny them direct passage to Paris, with Marianna Tolo (19 points), Ezi Magbegor (15) and Isobel Borlase (14) combining for 48 of their team’s points in the 73-73 win against the world’s No.10 ranked team.

Having already secured their Olympic berth with a big win over Germany on Sunday, after which legendary Lauren Jackson announced she was retiring and wouldn’t be going to a fifth Games, the Opals didn’t take their foot off the pedal.

Having fallen well short of expectations in Tokyo, knocked-out in the quarter-finals after a disastrous campaign derailed by constant dramas around Liz Cambage, the Opals are eyeing off another medal in Paris and will hit the Olympics as the third ranked team in the world, and with key players to return from injury.

Jackson didn’t suit up for the final game of the tournament after the 42-year-old made her emotional announcement.

Opals coach Sandy Brondello said the narrow victory, with Serbia needing to win to get to Paris, was the sort of Olympic preparation her team needed and they would leave Brazil buzzing knowing there was work still to be done

“Really happy, it’s good to play those kinds of games, really intense,” she said.

“Our experienced players he;pp the composure but I’m really happy with the young kids we threw out there. We achieved our goal which was to get the ticket to Paris, but we also wanted to win every game.

“Now we can go away and work on the things we want to build on going to the Olympics.”

“We are a very connected group. I wish we had more time together but when we do come together we make sure we get exactly what we want. We don’t waste a day … knowing we are a country with the least amount of preparation time.”

Young players including 21-year-old Jade Melbourne upped her presence, playing 20 minutes with Tess Madgen not playing and veteran Cayla George said that exposure was crucial for the evolution of the team.

“It’s great top have games like that, it builds resilience and builds character,” she said.

While preparing to go to the Olympics without Jackson, Brondello was adamant the veteran could “still play” but they would give her some space before hoping to have the four-time Olympian play some role in their campaign.