Russia, Romania, France and Netherlands are the four teams that have progressed in the final weekend at the EHF EURO 2018, but none of them have won more than a silver medal in the competition. Therefore, a new team will enter the record books in the Women’s EHF European Championship.
Who will be the top scorer, will Romania cope without Neagu and how is France going to handle the pressure in Paris are all questions that will find their answers in the next few days.
A maiden winner at the EHF EURO
There are only four teams that have won the EHF EURO in history – Norway (seven times), Denmark (three times), Montenegro and Hungary (each one time) – but neither of them has qualified for the final weekend in Paris. Which can only mean one thing: there will be a new winner after the EHF EURO 2018.
Will it be France, the hosts, who can double up on their World Championship title won last year? Can Romania play the underdog and take one of the most fascinating wins in their history? Or it is time for Evgeni Trefilov’s Russia to shine? Maybe Netherlands can avenge their narrow loss in the final, 30:29, from two years ago, against Norway.
Only Russia (2006) and Netherlands (2016) have already made trips to the final in the EHF EURO, but both were beaten by Norway. This time, the Norwegian side is not in the last four teams in the competition, due to a slow start in the preliminary round, with losses against Romania and Germany.
No Scandinavian team in the final weekend
In fact, this is only the second EHF EURO final in history that will surely not feature a Scandinavian team, after Hungary beat Ukraine in 2000, 32:30, after a final that needed extra-time. Neither Norway nor Denmark and Sweden have progressed to the final weekend in Paris, with the first two sides taking the gold medal in ten out of the 12 editions of the Women’s EHF European Championship.
While Denmark finished fourth in Group I, Sweden and Norway have finished third in their respective groups, earning the right to feature in the 5/6 Placement Match which will take place before the first semi-final of the EHF EURO 2018. Both teams would have surely wanted more, but heartbreaking losses in the preliminary round meant that their way to the first two places in the main round was always going to be an uphill challenge.
How’s France going to cope with the pressure?
France have already won three bronze medals at the EHF EURO (2002, 2006 and 2016), but they will surely look for the gold in their first ever hosted tournament. Their recipe for success has been the same ever since Olivier Krumbholz has been named coach: a defence-minded team, with grit and strength. Surely enough, they have the best defence in the competition – with only 139 conceded goals over six games, or an average of 23,1 goals per game, the lowest in the competition.
But their struggles have been exposed in attack, despite scoring 166 goals in the EHF EURO 2018. They have not been able to deliver against Russia, in their opening game, while the 21 goals scored against Sweden was just enough to hold out for a draw, whilst a loss could have complicated the group. The semi-final against Netherlands surely seems to be one to watch for the handball purists, as two very good defences will clash in Paris. But will playing at home, in front of die-hard fans, add serious pressure on the French side?
How will Romania cope without Neagu?
When Cristina Neagu overextended her knee whilst trying to drop Szimonetta Planeta, the arena in Nancy went quiet. There was little any player could do to help Neagu, as line player Crina Pintea was crying over her shoulder. Neagu is a strong player, will come back more powerful, but Romania will have to learn to cope without her if they are to win a medal at the EHF EURO 2018.
It is hard to underline how important is Neagu for the Romanian side, as she is their best scorer – 44 goals – and has the most assists – 23 – but other players need to step up. Left back Bianca Bazaliu will break her duck at the EHF EURO against Russia, but more experienced players like Eliza Buceschi and Melinda Geiger will have to pull the weights in the back line.
Who will be the top goal scorer?
Serbia is out after finishing last in Group I, therefore right wing Katarina Krpez Slezak cannot improve her 50-goal tally recorded after playing six games at the EHF EURO 2018. While Cristina Neagu, who was second in the rankings, with 44 goals, is unlikely to play in the next games, the baton can probably be taken by Romanian playmaker Eliza Buceschi, who is on 40 goals after the main round.
Sixth-placed Nathalie Hagman scored 17 of her 30 goals against Russia in Sweden’s 39:30 win in the last game of the main round, but will only play once in Paris, in the 5/6 Placement Match against Norway. The next player who is due to play twice over the final weekend is Russia’s left wing Daria Samokhina, but she will need 24 goals just to tie Krpez in the rankings.