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.
From now on in Euro 2012, everything matters. Today sees the semi finals and tomorrow the final. We’ve come a long way together but now our journey is at an end. Norway and Montenegro face Hungary and Serbia respectively. There is intrigue, drama and a whiff of the political ahead.Norway lost their last group match with Denmark coming from behind in the second half to win 35:33. This will have no bearing on today’s game. The same is also true of Hungary’s loss to Russia. Both rested players and took to the court with one eye on the semi final. It no doubt hurt to lose but it will hurt more today.
In Katrine Lunde Haraldsen and Éva Kiss we have, statistically, the two best keepers in the tournament. It’s worth noting that Kiss is the Hungarian ‘second’ keeper behind Orsolya Herr in terms of tournament shots faced. Hungary have varied between using one keeper for virtually the whole match to a more even rotation – when concentration and stamina are such core requirements as against Norway I expect to see both keepers employed evenly. Haraldsen will presumably be glued to the Norway goal. So, solid keeping will need to be backed up by Gibraltar-rock defence. And, in Hungary’s case, the need to foul relentlessly. They will need to neutralise Linn Jorum Sulland, Heidi Loke and the rest. And somehow stop the fast-breaks. Their own attack will also need to be operating on a level it’s not always achieved this tournament and they must surely need a stand-out performance from Anita Görbicz who has so far scored only 14 times from open play in six games.
My prediction is that Norway will win by 2.
Meanwhile the other match sees what would have been a domestic dispute played out as a proper international. Serbia face Montenegro. The partisan home favourites against the Olympic silver-medallists. In exactly the same way as the Serb men over-achieved in their own tournament earlier this year so the women have come together and found ways to win matches. They don’t possess any notable stars who dominate the others but play well as a team, even without their coach reaching out to grab attractive opponents. Their win over France (without which they could not have qualified) featured a 52% save ratio from Katarina Tomašević and they will need something similar today – and combine that with the same ‘grind out’ approach. It may not be pretty. Montenegro have Euro 2012’s top scorer in Katarina Bulatović backed up by Jovanka Radicevic. The way for them to win would seem to be to play to their offensive strengths, draw as many defensive fouls as possible and leave Serbia with too much to do. I expect random acts of violence from both teams.
My prediction is that Montenegro will win by 3.
Both matches are live over on YouTube. Norway v Hungary starts at 1.30pm (UK) and Serbia v Montenegro is at 4pm. It all takes place at the 20,000 capacity Kombank Arena in Belgrade.
At the same time as European eyes are on Belgrade and Novi Sad the 2012 Asian Women’s Championship is taking place in Indonesia. Evidently, the hosts have struggled. Before their most recent match they had played four and lost four – and were -211 on points difference.
Things were about to get worse.
In their next (and thankfully, final) match they played North Korea and lost 2:73. They got a goal and conceded more than thirty in each half.
However, joy for the people of the Democratic People’s Republic was short-lived as they could only finish third in the table behind China and South Korea and so do not make the semi finals. They take place tomorrow and it’s South Korea v Kazakhstan and Japan v China.
South Korea have won 10 of the 13 Asian Women’s Championships so far contested but it’s Kazakhstan who are the defending champions. Their semi final, at least, should be a lot closer than 73:2
We’ve set out the permutations as we understand them for today’s games here so all that remains to do is get the crysal ball out and undertake a final day’s group-stage predicting.
Group I is where the drama will be as, unlike Group II, there’s still a semi final berth available. First up though at 3.10pm UK is Sweden v Czech Republic. The Czechs have battled hard in every game and with a bit of good fortune might have collected some more points since their opening day win against Ukraine but I expect Sweden will want to go out on a high and am backing them today.
Then, at 5.10pm it’s Serbia v France. It’s only really for Serb matches that the arena has been anything like full and I imagine there will be a lot of home town support in again. Ordinarily, I’d say France as they have the pedigree and also, on paper, the better team but they’ve underperformed whereas Serbia have played to their strengths (albeit having taken part in numerous see-saw matches). I’ll be going for a Serb win here – which renders the next match redundant.
The next match is at 7.10pm. Denmark are the tournament’s top scorers and have called up Laerke Moller (129 goals in 44 matches) so are presumably thinking that adding firepower is the way to go. Their defence will need to improve though and also cutting out the errors that has cost them in pressure situations. Assuming the match still counts it will be interesting to see how Norway go about the match – and it may be their attitude that has the most significant bearing on the score. On balance, I think Denmark will win, I just think it will be too late for them.
Over in the already-decided Group II I imagine Spain will want to go out in style against Montenegro (3.10pm) and they may just win and show everybody what they should have been doing the whole time; Romania and Germany (5.10pm) I expect to be entertaining and end in a German win (again, showing what they’ve got too late in the day); and, finally, I expect Hungary against Russia to be brutal but go with form, so a win for Hungary and recriminations for Russia.
Remember, it’s all live with commentary on YouTube and, should you have a problem with that stream, it’s live without commentary for anybody with a Bet365 account in the UK via their livestreaming. (Other bookies are available but they all make Norway clear favourites for the title.)
So … Norway are through to the semi finals. They’ve wobbled a bit but it’s never been in doubt. There isn’t any other team in the competition that has their consistency or their annoyingly strong mix of goalkeeping, defence, break-speed, attacking options and shooting power. Also through are Montenegro who, on their day, should be able to beat Norway but who managed to lose to Germany and Hungary, another side who should be able to take the game to Norway, but who have yet to dominate their matches in quite the same way.
The last semi final spot is between Denmark, Serbia and France. And, with the caveat that I usually get these things wrong, this is how I understand the permutations:
If Denmark lose to Norway, they are out and either Serbia or France will qualify.
If Denmark draw with Norway, they are out and either Serbia or France will qualify.
If Denmark beat Norway, they will go through if France beat Serbia.
If Serbia beat France they will go through.
If Serbia and France draw then Serbia will go through.
If France beat Serbia and Norway beat Denmark then France will go through.
If France beat Serbia and Denmark beat Norway then Denmark will go through.
I’d put your house (silly to bet my own house) on Serbia.
I’ll have match times and woefully inaccurate predictions for the matches tomorrow.
It’s a busy day in Euro 2012 as both main round groups have a full set of fixtures to get through. As ever, it’s all live on YouTube with most games have commentary in English to help the ignorant (me) out …
Looking over Group I, and it’s a big day for Serbia, Denmark and France. They all need to win and hope the others lose. Denmark are more in control with 4 points and they face a Serbia who will be bouyed by the home crowd but bruised by their inability to take all the points against Sweden. France will hope to move themselves up to 4 points with a win over already-out Czech Republic and there’s no real reason to expect them not to. Sweden play Norway in the day’s first game. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see an ‘upset’ Swede win here but Norway have played with steel in every match so far and they may not relax until qualification is actually confirmed.
Schedule (predicted winners in bold):
3.10pm (UK): Czech Republic v France; 5.10pm Norway v Sweden; 7.10pm Serbia v Denmark
Over in Group II and, similarly, everything could clearer are waters everywhere could become muddied. The strong Montenegro side are unbeaten and topn the group with 6 points. They face Germany who have had a heartbreaking tournament today. One almost hopes for a German win to restore pride but I really can’t see past another comfortable Montenegro performance. Spain and Russia face each other in a must-win game for both teams – and if they don’t win then they will have to face up to how disappointing this tournament has become for them. It’s the final match which really whets the appetite though as Romania and Hungary do battle – and the winner will have sole ownership of second spot in the table and be favourites for the semi-finals.
Schedule (predicted winners in bold)
3.10pm Spain v Russia (draw); Germany v Montenegro; Hungary v Romania
Regardless of the results everyone gets the day off tomorrow – the Main Round concludes with six more games on Thursday.
We knew Norway were good. We knew they were more than capable of solid defence, strong attack and fighting back. And now they’ve gone and beaten France so comfortably it makes you wonder how some bookies had them as favourites.
The final score was 30:19 – France scoring only 9 in the second half. Norway’s win was built on its trademark solidity, goalkeeper Katrine Haraldsen was in fine form, and backed up by seven goals from Linn Sulland and five from Linn-Kristin Koren. France tried hard for long stretches but could never get close enough. Barring something odd, Norway can now cruise to the semi final stage – France will presumably beat the Czech Republic but then face Serbia in the last match.
Behind Norway, things are a lot less clear over who will claim the other semi final spot. Serbia looked to be about to move into pole-position as they led Sweden 23:18 with 7 minutes to go but three goals from Linnea Torstenson and two from Ulrika Agren meant the match finished level at 23:23. Sweden had had their own five goal lead in the first half but this probably feels more like an opportunity missed for the Serbs.
The Czech Republic can be definite about their future in the tournament. They can’t qualify for the semi finals after a 33:30 loss to Denmark. They more than held their own but after falling two goals behind with quarter of an hour to go were never able to bridge the gap. Denmark were thankful to 10 goals from Ann Grete Norgaard and 20 saves from Sandra Toft. The Czechs actually had more shots in the match and are probably kicking themselves this morning.
Today there are games from both groups … predictions for those coming up later …