24/09/2018

Norway not alone as favourites at EHF EURO

FEATURE: We take a closer look at four of the favourites for the EHF EURO 2018 title – the World Championship 2017 semi-finalists, Norway, France, Netherlands and Sweden

Nora Mørk celebrates during the final, Norway vs Netherlands, at the EHF EURO 2016. Photo: Uros Hocevar

Back-to-back EHF EURO title holders Norway will, of course, feature among the favourites of the next competition, which will take place in France from 29 November to 16 December. But a status as favourites does not always mean you will lift the trophy at the end of the competition.

Let’s have a look at why Norway could be defeated this time around.

Norway

If there is one nation that sparks fear among its opponents in women handball, it is Norway. Just look at the statistics: Seven EHF EURO, three world championship and two Olympic titles – an impressive record. What is even more spectacular is the way that Norway have managed to stay on top despite gradually introducing new players along the way.

The nation has instilled a winning tradition in the women’s team – just like France has with men. The oldest players, like Katrine Lunde and Heidi Loke, are still hungry for success, despite winning every trophy that exists in handball. When youngsters join the team, they are pulled straight to the top.

But despite such a reign, could we see the wind turning? Norway did not win gold at two of the last three major championships. They still won medals, both at the Olympics and the last World Championship, but to see them defeated by Russia and France in the crunch matches was something new.

What is sure is that these defeats somehow proved to the other teams that Norway can be beaten. It has been a year since Nora Mørk & Co lost to France in the final at the World Championship in Germany. The EURO in France will be a good opportunity to see if Norway have taken back the upper hand.

France

11 years after they organised the Women’s World Championship, France are hosts again of a major women’s competition – and for the first time, of an EHF EURO. Clearly, the home support will be crucial for a team that has been on the way up in the last three years.

Since coach Olivier Krumbholz returned to the bench, the equation is pretty simple: France have won a medal at every competition they have taken part in. One bronze, one silver and one gold, at the World Championship 2017 in Germany.

For these two reasons, France are almost on par with Norway when talking about favourites. This EHF EURO has been talked about for months, even years, in the ranks of this France team. “The event of a lifetime,” said Camille Ayglon-Saurina during the preparation for the new season.

The main question is: Will France be able to cope with all the emotions that come with a home competition? If they do, they will not be far from the gold medal. The experience of players like Amandine Leynaud, Alexandra Lacrabere and Siraba Dembele, who have been part of the EHF FINAL4 with European powerhouse clubs, will be very important in those moments.

“The difference will be made on our capacity to keep our arms hot and our heads cold,” said Allison Pineau. Now that they have the recipe and the ingredients, it is time to cook!

Sweden

Could Sweden be the surprise of the EHF EURO? After years in the dark, the Scandinavians are now back to the front of the stage, thanks to a talented new generation. All the players expected to be part of the EURO are under 30 years old, hinting at how good this team could be in the future. But why should the future wait?

At the last World Championship, Sweden were not far from beating France in the semi-final, and their fourth-place finish at the end of the tournament indicates that the future is bright.

Now the hardest thing will be to confirm this result. Too often in the past, the Swedes had a brilliant campaign but did not manage to follow it up. Despite winning bronze at the EHF EURO 2014, in the wake of an amazing Isabelle Gullden outing, they only grabbed ninth place at the following World Championship.

All the main Swedish players have now been on the Champions League court for several years and might have gathered enough experience not to let this happen again. They could win gold or lose in the quarter-finals – with Sweden, you never know.

The Netherlands

The eternal outsiders are back! In recent years, the Netherlands have been regulars at the top of women’s handball alongside Norway. But they are still lacking a title: In 2015 and 2016 they were crowed with silver medals at the World Championship and EURO, before taking bronze at the World Championship 2017. At the Olympic Games in Rio, the Netherlands ended up fourth. Now that’s consistency. But as time goes on, there are doubts as to whether the Netherlands will be able to grow enough to take a trophy.

Despite Yvette Broch’s absence for the EURO, they have the roster. A back court able to fire from anywhere, anytime, and in Tess Wester, they own one of the three best goalkeepers in the world. But just like Denmark in men’s handball during the early 2000s, the Netherlands are just not able to deliver in the important times. They have said that they are tired of losing semi-finals and finals, and that they now want gold. The EHF EURO will be the perfect occasion to see how the Dutch have grown in the last year.

written by Kevin Domas / cg