The hosts duly won on the opening evening of the 21st Women’s World Championship but they had to come from behind to do it. Serbia beat Japan 28:26 but trailed 10:13 at the break. They now have a couple of days to sort themselves out before they take on Algeria. Japan’s next opponent is Denmark.
I thought I’d resurrect the site in honour of the fact that there’s a top-drawer international tournament coming up and if you can’t get excited about that then what can you get excited by?
The 21st Women’s Handball World Championships starts this evening at 5pm UK time with the host nation (that’s Serbia) taking on Japan. Anything other than a mahoosive win for the home team will be a shock. Japan finished third at the Asian Championships to qualify and didn’t disgrace themselves in the 2011 World Championship (Denmark required extra time to put them out at the quarter final stage) and whilst the Serbs, surprisingly, don’t have a great World Championship pedigree they will hope to ride the same momentum they had during Euro 2012 which was also held in Serbia where they reached the semi finals.
Serbia v Japan is the only match today. Everyone else plays tomorrow in what some people might call a handball overload. Those people are wrong.
The full fixture list for the opening matches on 7 December is below, my helpful predictions are in brackets. All times are UK.
1.45pm Montenegro v South Korea (The European champions should win fairly comfortably but Korea aren’t too shabby and it should be a good game.)
4pm France v DR Congo (The French could play their third string for the whole match and win at a canter. This could be ugly.)
6.15pm Netherlands v Dominican Republic (The Dutch never seem to be quite as good as I expect them to be but should still win here against the Americas’ third best team.)
5pm Brazil v Algeria (I’m looking forward to this one. Both teams will have marked this as must win)
7.15pm Denmark v China (China have never finished higher than 12th in a World Championship. Denmark will win.)
2.45pm Angola v Argentina (See Brazil v Algeria except I expect this to be even better.)
5pm Poland v Paraguay (Poland to win. Not much else to say.)
7.15pm Norway v Spain (It’s a shame that there’s so little jeopardy in the early stages. This really should be a high quality contest though. Norway lost their first match in 2011 (to Germany) but you’d expect them to win today.)
1.45pm Hungary v Czech Republic (Hungary are really quite good, the Czech Republic less so.)
4pm Germany v Australia (As a proud Englishman I am always pleased to see Australia lose. And they will lose here. By a lot.)
6.15pm Romania v Tunisia (Romania’s star has somewhat sunk in handball terms but they should still win games like this one.)
Four teams from each group go into the Last 16 which is then a straightforward knock out to the final. The Round of 16 is played 15/16 December and the final is on the 22nd. Expect full venues for when the Serbs are around, less full ones for when they are not.
There is an official IHF page where you can watch the tournament. It’ll cost you (and I’m not making this up) £30. Because that’s how you spread handball. You wouldn’t want to, I don’t know, follow the example of the European Handball Federation (and others) and have live matches stream over YouTube or ehftv so anyone not already converted can see the action firsthand. That would be silly. But, anyway, if you don’t want to pay £30 you can deposit £1 in a Bet365 account and they appear to have every match available on their livestreaming although the quality will be less. I have looked on the Eurosport/Premier pages but can’t see any coverage there yet.
To get you in the mood for the tournament why not watch the bizarre teaser video:
Or, to actually get you in the mood, how about reliving the final few minutes of the epic European final where Montenegro beat Norway. Anything like this between now and the 22nd and we’ll all be well-pleased:
Whilst the men were sorting out the qualifiers for the European Championship to be held in Denmark in 2014 the women were sorting out the details of their World Championship qualifiers. This will be played in Serbia in December and will no doubt be covered extensively across the British media and be live in every living room – or conversely you’ll have to make do with Bet365 live-streaming and random updates from sites like this.
Anyway, there weren’t too many surprises as to who qualified. Australia are there because they always beat New Zealand; China, Japan and South Korea were far too strong for everyone else in Asia; regulars Argentina and Brazil, and Algeria and Tunisia are there, joined by Dominican Republic and Paraguay, and DR Congo and Algeria.
The biggest surprise in Europe would be the Netherlands winning by 12 goals in Russia to overturn a first leg deficit in their play off. Russia were World Champions in 2009 and have taken the title on six other occasions; the Netherlands best finish ever was 5th and they were 15th in 2011. Otherwise Europe provides Serbia (hosts), Norway (current champions), Montenegro (European champions), Hungary (European semi finalists) and the other qualifiers of the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Romania and Spain.
The groups have now been drawn. The 24 teams will start off in four groups of six from which the top four will be progress into a main round group stage. The groups are set out below and it all starts on 7 December.
Group A: Montenegro, Netherlands, France, South Korea, DR Congo, Dominican Republic
Group B: Denmark, Brazil, Serbia, China, Japan, Algeria
Group C: Norway, Poland, Angola, Spain, Argentina, Paraguay
Group D: Hungary, Germany, Romania, Czech Republic, Tunisia, Australia
Live handball returns to our legal internet streams again this weekend with the final three games of Matchday 1 of the Main Round of the EHF Women’s Champions League. This is where the competition gets properly serious and there’s a lot to look forward to.
Saturday sees what is probably the Match of the Week as Györi Audi play host to Buducnost in a rerun of last season’s final. Buducnost have not travelled particularly well on their Champions League travels this year losing to both Thueringer and Zvezda Zvenigorod in the previous group round. Györi qualified from the group with six wins from six and in Anita Görbicz have the poster girl for the women’s Champions League (at least as far as every EHF advert ever produced is concerned). You’d probably back Györi today but without going too far out on a limb there’s a reasonable chance that as well as their return fixture these two will meet again in the knock out stages – although Larvik, who won last week, may disagree.
Sunday in Group 2 sees, happily enough, two matches. at 2pm UK it’s the Russians of Zvezda Zvenigorod against the Slovenians of Krim Ljubljana. Ljubljana needed a last-match win to come through the previous grouop stage whereas their opponents, who had to come through a qualifying tournament to reach the Champions League won five matches for an easy progression. Let’s assume that at home they will do so again.
The second group 2 match is between CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea (that’s easy for you to say, etc etc) and the team that the EHF and the listings call FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria but that wikipedia wants to call Ferencvárosi. Either way, both these teams have pedigree: the Hungarians are twice Champions League finalists and current EHF Cup Winners Cup holders; the Romanians are likewise previous finalists and have also won their domestic title eighteen times in the past twenty-four years. The hosts will have to do without Cristina Neagu, the world’s best player in 2010, who following a return in the autumn from a 20-month lay-off has now torn her ACL and will play no more this season. As for who will win today: CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea are so far unbeaten in the Champions League and “FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria” dropped only the match away to Larvik, and that was after they’d qualified. Which means I haven’t a clue but it should be close.
Links to all the matches – as well as some in the EHF Cup and other tournaments – can be found here.
Tomorrow sees the return of the EHF Women’s Champions League with the first match of the main round. The ‘Main Round’ is the second group stage of the competition wherein the eight remaining teams slug it out for the semi final spots. This weekend, oddly(*), sees only the one match but it could be a good one: the Scandinavian ‘derby’ between the Norwegians of Larvik and the Danes of Randers.
Randers finished second in their group with a three wins, three losses record and were dependent on a final game victory over Hypo Niederoesterreich to progress. Larvik were Champions League winners in 2011 but were overwhelmed by winners Buducnost in the semi finals last year. The bookies make Larvik 1/8 favourites and in their two previous Champions League meetings (in 2010) they were indeed comfortable winners. But if for no other reason than it’s good both to have the Champions League back and handball available in the UK via decent streams let’s hang on to the idea that it might be a bit closer than all that suggests.
(* = It’s because the Larvik arena is double-booked next weekend).
At some point this stopped being just a match between the two best teams in the tournament and became the kind of experience every sports fan dreams about. This match had everything: it had double extra time and in each period of that there was a reffing controversy, it had a lead that changed hands, momentum that swung and, in the end, it had heroes.
Those heroes could be found throughout the Montenegro side. From the goalkeeper Sonja Barjaktarovic who played the full eighty minutes and made 17 saves to Milena Knezevic who found the net 10 times, and then there was Katarina Bulatovic who was on court for over an hour and whose own performance summed up that of her team: bruised, defiant, victorious.
But on the losing side too, there were some great performances. Anja Edin, again, was a focus for so much in defence and attack although she’ll be disappointed with only a 4/10 shooting return and Ida Alstad led with 11 goals, including three in the second half of the first period of extra time to overturn what had looked like an unassailable Norwegian lead. But some players were muted, in particular, Linn Jorum Sulland could only manage three goals from eight shots.
At the final hooter, Heidi Loke remonstrated with the officials for her two minute suspension which had been the catalyst for Montenegro’s final, final charge for the title – but then Montenegro could counter that but for the very harsh two minutes given to Katarina Bulatovic in the first extra time there would have been no opportunity for Alstad’s equalising heroics.
Type ‘Montenegro’ into google news right now and all you see is women’s handball. There is nothing else on the ticker. Perhaps the place closes on Sunday. What isn’t in doubt is how much this means to both the players on the court and the nation they represent.
And that’s before the impact on women’s handball that somebody, at last, has beaten Norway.
If you feel up to it, you can watch it all again here:
If it’s all getting a bit predictable it’s also getting a bit more impressive each time. Norway will once again contest a major final as favourites and this time they do so having destroyed Hungary with one of the most dominant performances they will ever have produced against quality opposition. Midway through the first half of their semi final they overturned a 10:7 deficit with a 9:2 run of scoring and then utterly controlled the second half. They could rotate the bench, showboat in attack and when Katrine Lunde Haraldsen took a whack in the face in the act of saving (one of 11 saves she made) they could relax in the knowledge that she could leave the court unworried. Anja Edin was strong in both attack and defence and Heidi Loke looked like the world’s greatest player but, terrifyingly, neither of them looked head and shoulders above their colleagues, quality-wise.I’d backed Norway to win by 2. They won by 11.
The other semi final, on the other hand, was a copper-bottomed classic as neighbours and former sharers of a sole identity Serbia and Montenegro did battle. It was a tough match with plenty of bite, especially on the fringes of the D but it was also a game whose outcome was never certain until the end.
Serbia led 14:13 at the break and with a bit of luck and concentration would have had a greater advantage. They had themselves come back from 9:5 down. The bullets fired by Biljana Filipovic inspiring yet another great team performance. Montenegro dug deep, played the refs to the limit and produced some smart shooting of their own – Milana Kzenevic finishing with 9 goals. In the end the team with greater depth pulled away and just held on.
In today’s final the crowd won’t be an issue and but on head to head Norway look just too strong. A Montenegro victory would be a beautiful result but they will need to work the refs effectively and shut down Norway in every aspect of the game – and do that for 60 minutes. Norway can always go to Plan B, then C, D and E as required. The bookies have Norway at 9/20 to win … but for all I think Norway should win if I were to place a bet I might be tempted to go for Montenegro.
My prediction, for what it’s worth, is Norway by 2. The match starts at 3pm (UK) – live on YouTube with commentary from the always excellent Paul Bray.