Ex-national coach Philip Mestdagh weighs the chances of the Belgian Cats against Poland: “Belgium is of course the favourite”

Philip Mestdagh is currently coaching in Poland at Gdynia. — © EPA-EFE

As European champions, the Belgian Cats open the European Championship qualifying round towards the 2025 European Championship against Poland on Wednesday in the Lotto Arena. We asked former national coach Philip Mestdagh (60), who is currently a successful coach at Polish top team Arka Gdynia, about Poland’s strength. “The Belgian Cats are of course the favorite,” he immediately said.

Philip Mestdagh was assistant coach from 2013 to 2015 and national coach of the Belgian Cats from 2015 to 2021. He was the orchestrator of Ann Wauters’ comeback in 2016 and, so to speak, the architect of the Cats’ successes. In 2017 and 2021 there was bronze at the European Championships, in 2018 a fourth place at the first World Cup ever and in 2020 there was qualification for the Olympic Games after a great qualifying tournament in Ostend.

At the 2021 Olympic Games, the Belgian Cats reached the quarter-finals on their debut. After a painful loss by 1 point against host country Japan, Philip Mestdagh did not receive a new contract as national coach. “That was a disappointment, I’m not going to be shy about that,” says Philip Mestdagh, who ended up in a burnout and retired for a year. “I have now given that a place and the focus is on new challenges. No, you won’t see me on Wednesday in the Lotto Arena. General Manager Koen Umans had invited me, but I will be leaving again for Poland and my club Gdynia on Tuesday morning. A nice gesture, but that visit to the Cats is for later. The Olympic qualifying tournament in Antwerp? Poland will not play an Olympic qualifying tournament and in February we will complete the final phase of the Polish Cup.”

Strong competitive start

Philip Mestdagh has been a coach at Polish side Arka Gdynia since this season and has had a good start to the competition. “3 out of 4 in the Polish EBLK and the same figures in the EuroCup Women. That’s nice, but we know our place. Polkowice and Lublin are two teams that play in the Euroleague, have the largest budget and are the favorites for the prizes. We want to put the spotlight on that duo together with some other clubs. Furthermore, Gdynia is nice to live in. A city in the north of Poland where people lie on the beach in the summer months and is therefore touristy. You do feel the tension of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Poland also borders Belarus and there is a lot of control and security there. Furthermore, the country has received many Ukrainians. Last month’s election results were also a good thing for Poland. The pro-European course remains intact.”

Philip Mestdagh at work at the Olympic Games. — © BELGIUM

Watch out for Stephanie Mavunga

Three players from Philip Mestdagh were selected for the extensive Polish preselection. “Only the 2m02 tall and 21 year old Kamila Borkowska made the selection of 15. She is in Belgium and on Tuesday evening it will become clear whether she is actually on the score sheet. Poland mainly relies on several players from Polkowice. National coach Karol Kowalewski is also the coach of Polkowice. One of the things to look forward to is the strong Stephanie Mavunga. A 28-year-old and 1.91 m tall American who was naturalized as a Polish citizen. She also plays in the WNBA.”

However, Philip Mestdagh thinks that the Belgian Cats will not get into trouble. “The Cats are the big favorite. Poland is only 40th in the world rankings (Belgium sixth, ed.) and has had little experience on the international scene in the last ten years. The last European Championship was in 2015, the last World Cup in 1994 and it has not qualified for the Olympic Games since 2000. However, the Polish federation is catching up with women’s basketball. In the Polish competition, for example, there must always be two Polish players in the starting five. One more U23. That doesn’t make it easy (laughs) but it is an investment that, in combination with a strong youth academy, will bring Poland back to the European sub-top in the immediate future.”

Hanne Mestdagh as co-commentator

So no Philip Mestdagh on Wednesday in the Lotto Arena, but there is daughter Hanne Mestdagh. She played no fewer than 101 times for the Belgian Cats, won two bronze medals at a European Championship (2017 and 2021), finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. She said goodbye to the Belgian Cats last year after the successful World Cup qualifying round in America/Dominican Republic. Hanne Mestedagh will be co-commentator alongside Christophe Vandegoor on Wednesday evening’s live TV broadcast on Sporza/Ketnet (from 8:20 PM).

Ex-Belgian Cat Hanne Mestdagh makes her debut on Wednesday as a co-commentator on Sporza — © BELGIUM

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