The last time EHF EURO 2018 hosts France met Russia in an official match at a major international championship, the Olympic title was at stake – and it was Russia who claimed the historic first gold medal in a women’s team sport for their nation. Now, France hope to avenge that result in front of their home crowd in Nancy when they open the EURO with the first match in Group B on Thursday evening.
France vs Russia
Thursday 29 November, 21:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
“This game against Russia is going to be extraordinary. I can’t think of a better way to launch the EURO. I think that we have here is not just about the competition, it's a very good promotion for handball as well,” said France coach Olivier Krumbholz in a press conference on Tuesday. “The EURO is the toughest competition there is and I expect all games to finish with narrow score lines.”
Russia won the Rio 2016 Final 22:19, in a typically low-scoring match for any side that comes up against France’s trademark defence. That game was a rematch of their preliminary round encounter that also ended with a victory for Russia, 26:25. In total, the teams have played each other 12 times in official matches, with eight wins for Russia and four for France.
They may have won the Olympic title in 2016, but Russia have not been as consistent as France over recent years. France won a medal at all three major international championships played since the summer of 2016 – silver at Rio 2016, bronze at the EHF EURO 2016 and gold at the World Championship 2017 one year ago. As the reigning world champions and hosts of the tournament, there is some pressure for France to perform.
“Everybody will be after us, because we won the World Championship and we’re playing at home. But there are a lot of teams that everybody wants to beat: Russia, Norway, Netherlands, Romania. That's not a position we’ve been in often, so we’ll get used to it,” said EHF EURO 2016 All-star Team best defender Beatrice Edwige. “In a way, we'll have a lot to lose because everybody expects us to win all the games and maybe even get all the way to the top.
In the final preparation matches ahead of the EURO, Russia contested the Carpathian Trophy in Romania, where they were unexpectedly defeated by the Romania B national team (25:24). However, Russia were missing four key players – Rio 2016 stars Anna Vyakhireva, Daria Dmitrieva, Polina Kuznetsova and Maya Petrova – at the event.
France played the second leg of the Golden League in Norway, collecting wins over Denmark (22:20) and Hungary (19:18), but losing to defending EURO champions Norway (21:23). Despite the loss to Norway, the low number of goals scored against France in each match shows their defence is in excellent form.
“The defence is reassuring, but I’m not too surprised by that. The offensive system is still a work in progress at the moment, but it’s the usual story, I think,” said Krumbholz on Tuesday. “We don’t trust each other and ourselves enough. Some want to make the difference by themselves when they might not have the capacity to do so, and that’s the moment when we lost ourselves. In my opinion, six or seven players can still improve, especially on the back court.”