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:
Domagoj Duvnjak has joined THW Kiel from HSV Hamburg. Duvnjak was pretty much the reason HSV overwhelmed Kiel in their Champions League semi-final and then was a key player in the final win over FC Barcelona. Hamburg will replace him with Joan Canellas from Atletico Madrid in what may be another indication of a weakening of the Madrid team.
Anyone who is prepared to bet that next season’s Champions League winner won’t be one from PSG, THW or FCB is a brave punter indeed.
There will be something a little unusual about the 11th Men’s European Handball Championship. There will be no Germany. The three-time World Champions and 2004 European winners finished third in their qualifying group and so will not be making the short hop over to Denmark. Sixteen of their fellow continentals did make it though (if we include Iceland as being ‘continental’) although Denmark had already done the decent thing and qualified as hosts and champions.
There was a bit of last-day drama: in the last game of the process Macedonia beat Portugal and so leapfrogged over their Iberian guests; Austria had an emotional win over Russia but they both qualified anyway with Russia taking the only ‘best loser’ slot; Belarus won in Slovenia to snuff out the latter’s chances of taking their place.
The final list therefore looks like this: Denmark, France, Spain, Iceland, Sweden, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Belarus, Austria, Russia and Macedonia. There are no teams making their first appearance but it is the first time Austria have qualified – their only previous appearance was when they were hosts.
The tournament will start on 14 January next year – about three weeks after the Women’s World Championship finishes in Serbia. There is likely to be exceptionally good coverage via ehftv who do these things very well indeed.
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
The qualification for 2014’s men’s championship in Denmark is still ongoing but for some countries the journey to 2016 in Poland is already at an end. Two of those countries are Great Britain and Ireland who both played their final matches in the process yesterday.
Ireland lost 36:12 in Belgium to finish bottom of the group that also features Estonia. Belgium must win by eight or more goals away in Estonia on Sunday to take the only qualifying spot in the group – any other result sees Estonia qualify for Stage 2. Like Ireland, Great Britain end with four losses but they can take some heart from turning around some very heavy defeats. Their first game (against Greece) saw them go down by 29 goals – this time out in Italy it was an 11 goal margin but was closer than that until very near the end. Steven Larsson top-scored in the match with 8 goals. Like Belgium, Italy now need to win away, this time by seven goals over Greece if they and not the Greeks are to progress.
Already through to the next stage are Finland who can use their last game, at home to Cyprus, to chillax and ponder the big guns waiting for them in stage 2.
So who had HSV Hamburg for the title then? Not just when the Final 4 was drawn and it was clear they would have to beat the big beasts of THW Kiel and FC Barcelona but back in September when they only just edged the Wild Card tournament final (coming from behind to beat hosts Saint-Raphaël Var) and then pitched into a group that included Flensburg-Handewitt, Montpellier, Reale Ademar Leon and Chekhovskiye Medvedi. But, despite all those obstacles, HSV have earned the right to be called European champions.
The Velux Final 4 had a bit of everything in the end. It had the relatively easy semi-final that showcased the grit of the victors: Barcelona on the back of 8 from Rutenka always had the edge over the Poles of Vive Targi Kielce. It had the semi-final with the result you didn’t see coming: Domagoj Duvnjak inspiring his Hamburg team-mates with 11 goals and Hamburg emerging victorious from a goal-fest. The Zebras almost unable to work out what had gone wrong. And then, in the third-place play off it had a confusion of names Kiel/Kielce (just me?) and the underdogs almost but not quite throwing away a 9 goal lead but hanging on – Kielce thus finished 3rd, Kiel 4th. And the main drama still to come.
If Hamburg’s semi-final had been a goal-fest the first half of the final was a defence-fest and one that looked like going the way of the Catalans. But with the first five minutes of the second half having more drama than the entire first the game swung. Twice Barcelona were pegged back only to take the lead again. Across the court were contests – not least in the goal. Sterbik in the Barcelona goal proved almost impossible to fire past whereas the athletic Bitter for Hamburg found his blocking limbs. Heading into the final stages Hamburg somehow had a four goal lead with a fast break that could have made it five … but Jansen missed and within the blink of an eye (it seemed) we were all tied. With the score at 25:24 Rutenka had a shot saved by Bitter but the rebound went straight back to him rather than the defence and making no mistake a second time we moved to extra time.
This was the first final to be decided in extra time and by now the crowd had discovered its German patriotism. I doubt there was a neutral across Europe wanting any result other than a victory for Martin Schwalb’s men. All were to get their wish but not before ten minutes of tension were played out.
As always seems to happen the scoring slowed. Neither side wanting to allow the other to dictate the pace. Hamburg caught a break when awarded a 7m penalty for a phantom foul and when Lindberg (the tournament’s top scorer) hit it to put HSV in front that was that. Just the small matter of a Bitter save, a Barcelona steal, a shot over the top and a final attempt after time up to cram into the remaining 120 seconds. Hamburg had earned the right to cling on. Their joy was unconfined, Barcelona looked shell-shocked.
“So much drama …” said ehftv commentator Tom O’Brainnagain. He was right. This was a final that reminded you of the straightforward magnificence of sport in general and the brutal beauty of handball in particular.
Want to see it again? Oh, go on …