While the winners from Groups A and B, Serbia and Russia, enjoy an extra day off, the four other teams in Group I in Nantes will enter the race for the semi-finals. The EHF EURO 2018 has reached the stage when there is no room for slip ups any longer, and every lost point can result in a blocked path to the medal round.
The 2012 European champions Montenegro are in the most serious situation. If they lose to Sweden, their hopes for semi-finals will be dashed.
Denmark vs France
Thursday 6 December, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
A defeat in this game will deal a serious blow to both sides’ semi-final hopes, but as the main round in Group I starts with only one team (Russia) on maximum points, everything is open.
“The cards are all in our hands, especially with Denmark’s defeat against Serbia. We have the chance to have our fate in our hands and not rely on the others,” France wing Laura Flippes said before she and her team flew from Nancy to Nantes.
While Denmark were almost completely outplayed by Serbia on the last preliminary round day, France take a lot of positive energy from their farewell encounter in Nancy, versus Montenegro.
“It seems like we are better with our backs against the wall. We defended well, and I think that delivering such a performance in such a game shows we have stepped up. That’s exactly what we needed, even for our heads. We will head to the main round with a huge boost of confidence,” Flippes added.
As their coach Klavs Bruun Jorgensen openly admitted after the Serbian lesson, the Danes need to step up: “I have to admit that I am a bit disappointed by our performance and perhaps I missed about five to 10 per cent of our potential.”
As the EURO reaches crunch time, it will be interesting to see whether coach Jorgensen will place team captain Stine Jorgensen back on the official players’ list. She played an important role in the opening win against Sweden before Jorgensen rested her, as she is still recovering from an older injury.
Two years ago in Gothenburg, France beat Denmark 25:22 on their way to the bronze medal, but in the all-time EURO head-to-heads, Denmark have won four games and France two.
Sweden vs Montenegro
Thursday 6 December, 21:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Sweden and Montenegro held preparation camps together before the EURO and the players even danced Zumba collectively, but now all the fun is gone as their clash on Wednesday will have tremendous importance for their future in the tournament.
Montenegro started the EURO with a win against Slovenia but the subsequent defeats to Russia and France mean they are starting the main round with zero points and cannot afford to lose.
Sweden played three matches with one-goal decisions – losing the first one but taking victories in the next two. If they want to make it to the final round as they did last year at the World Championship in Germany, Sweden now need to carry on winning.
Jamina Roberts, who scored the winning goal against Poland, expects that Montenegro will put them to a stern test.
“Not just the game against Montenegro, but all games in the main round, will be very tough. All three teams coming from Nancy are very good and strong, so we will have to play a little bit better than in our last game against Poland,” said the left back.
“We met Montenegro in two games before we came here to the EURO and we lost both of them, but I think that our chances are at 50:50. We know each other well now and it will be tough.”
Montenegro will rely on the expertise of their Swedish coach Per Johansson, who also coached Sweden in the past, but Roberts does not think this will help their opponents too much.
“Per Johansson might know very well how we are playing, but it will not be him but his team playing against us, so let us see,” Roberts commented.
The rivals have met twice on EURO courts in the past – both times at the 2014 edition in Hungary and Croatia. Montenegro won the main round clash 30:29 under the guidance of former coach Dragan Adzic. In the bronze-medal match, led by Thomas Sivertsson and current coach of the Netherlands Helle Thomsen, Sweden struck back, 25:23.