Melbourne bound for Paris Olympics


Et voilà! The Australian Opals are en route the 2024 Paris Olympics, after securing qualification in Brazil over the weekend.

Only needing to finish in the top three from their group of four, the Opals secured the right to advance to Paris with wins in their first two games.

Traralgon’s Jade Melbourne could well be on that plane to France later this year, after playing a part during the final qualifying stage.

Australia only just survived a late scare from Brazil in their opening game of qualifying, getting over the line by five points.

Despite being 10 points up at the half, and extending that lead into the third quarter, Brazil came firing back to only trail by two points at the final change.

Next to no scoring was had in the final quarter, as Australia edged evermore slightly ahead to claim a five-point victory.

Unless something crazy was to happen, the Opals had all but secured their ticket to Paris by this stage, but another win would make that a certainty.

And boy, did they make certain of it.

In their penultimate qualifier, Australia thrashed Germany to claim their ticket to the Olympics.

The Opals were up by as much as 14 points after the first quarter, extending that margin to 30 by the end of the half, the job seemingly done.

Germany put up a fight in the third quarter, not letting Australia get much further away, but they couldn’t stop them for long, with the Opals recording a 33-point win.

Melbourne scored six points in what was a very all-rounded game from the Opals, which saw every player on the roster score at least two points.

Melbourne also took down two boards and provided two assists, proving difficult to come toward with a steal to her name.

In a shock twist, Australia’s best-ever women’s basketballer, Lauren Jackson, announced her retirement after qualification was securing.

Jackson was set to join the Opals in her fifth Olympics, after the Australians qualified for the Olympics for a 10th time.

She initially retired in 2016, before returning ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

“When I say this has been a privilege, I mean it,” Jackson said on Instagram.

Jackson represented Australia at four different Olympics (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012), winning three silver and a bronze medal.

She won Gold at her only Commonwealth Games – fittingly in Melbourne in 2006, and also claimed Gold during the same year at the 2006 FIBA World Cup.

Happy as Larry: Jade Melbourne (left) celebrates with her teammates after Australia secured a spot at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Photograph: Aus Opals/Instagram

Melbourne was boosted into the starting five for the Opals’ final game against Serbia, putting up 10 points, four rebounds and four assists, as the Aussie swept the qualifiers.

Despite trailing during moments of the final quarter, Melbourne was electric, using her pace up and down the court to put points on the board and deny points on the other end.

Playing over 20 minutes, Melbourne definitely showed what she can bring to the table, and was one of six Australians to score more than 10 points.

The Opals completed the qualifiers on top of the group, progressing before their final game, while Serbia and Germany also progressed, leaving Brazil to miss out – despite playing the qualifiers on their home deck.

From the 12 teams qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics, Australia will remain the third seeded team, behind the US (No. 1) and narrowly behind China (No. 2) on FIBA ranking points.

Germany is the only outlier from the qualified teams, ranked 25th in the world, while the other 11 countries rank within the top 12. Brazil were ranked eighth.

All that’s left to be answered is: will Melbourne be in that squad going to Paris?

With only a few games left of the WNBL season for Melbourne’s Canberra Capitals, and an upcoming WNBA preseason camp with the Seattle Storm, Melbourne will be fit, firing and eager as ever to make sure she is the right choice for the Opals.


From Moe to a shot at the Olympics

A PIECE of Moe might just have a say in whether the Matildas get to play at the 2024 Paris Olympics or not.

Moe’s Teagan Micah was selected in the Matildas 23-player squad by head coach Tony Gustavsson, keeping her spot in the squad from the international friendlies at the end of 2023.

Australia will face Uzbekistan in a two-tie home-and-away series, starting in Uzbekistan’s Milliy Stadium on February 24, with the return leg to be played at Marvel Stadium on February 28.

The winner will be one of the Asian Football Confederation’s two representatives at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, joining either Japan or North Korea who have the same task at hand.

Mackenzie Arnold is still tipped to be ahead of Micah in the goalkeeping ranks, but the Moe export won’t be short of experience as of late, starting three times as a goalkeeper for Liverpool in the Women’s Super League since December last year.

Micah also started in goal for the Matildas recently, in a series of friendlies against Canada, winning one game 5-0, losing the other 1-0.

Fingers crossed: Former Moe soccer player Teagan Micah is part of the Matildas squad vying for a spot at this year’s Paris Olympics. File photograph

The Matildas breezed through the second round of qualifying with no scratches on their record, winning all three group stage matches against Philippines, Iran and Chinese Taipei.

Uzbekistan defeated Vietnam 1-0 and India 3-0, but fell 2-0 to Japan in between either game, yet progressed as the best-ranked second-placed side.

France has already qualified for the Olympics as the host nation, while the US, Brazil, Colombia and Canada are the other teams to confirm qualification.

Another seven nations are still yet to be decided, including Australia.

One country is set to advance from the Oceania Football Confederation, while two teams from each of the European, Asian and African footballing entities will qualify for the Olympics.