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:
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.
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 …
If you haven’t already done so locate the a full replay of the Fuechse Berlin v Barcelona match and don’t answer the phone for the next two hours. Your life will be much better for it.
Having done that, let’s look over this weekend’s results in the men’s and women’s Champions League – and also see the fixtures for this week’s matches. Starting with the men …
The leadership of Group A switched hands following the draw between Chekhovskiye Medvedi and HSV Hamburg – their second tie in the group stage. The lack of winner opened the way for SG Flensburg-Handewitt who took advantage by overwhelming Partizan Belgrade. Those three have qualified. The fourth place is between Ademar Leon of Spain and Montpellier. In their head-to-head it was the Spaniards who emerged victorious 30:28. Both teams now sit on five points with two matches remaining.
Group B remains tight with only the super soaraway leaders of MKB Veszprém and the annoyingly consistent THW Kiel assured of qualification. They both won again at the weekend – by a combined margin of 21 goals. Atletico Madrid did their qualification chances no harm at all with a win over Celje Pivovarna Laško – realistically with 8 points they are now through. The other three can scrap amongst themselves for the final qualifying berth.
Two teams in Group C have a solitary win to their name but at least one of those, Chambery, can also say they have known only victories in 2013. They will need two more wins and a lot of luck to overturn the team they beat, Bjerringbro-Silkeborg of Denmark, but at least they are still alive. Gorenje, Metalurg and Vive Targi Kielce are already through.
In Group D we had the aforementioned belter between Fuechse Berlin and the Catalan Supermen. It ended with victory for the Germans. Somehow. Elsewhere, Croatia Zagreb have appealed the result in their defeat to Dinamo Minsk based on a player returning prematurely in the 2 minutes and Kadetten Schahffhausen smashed Pick Szeged. It’s one from Zagreb, Szeged and Schaffhausen for the final spot.
We’re into the Main Round (Second Group Stage) in the women’s Champions League. In Group A, the powerhouses are looking powerful. Larvik have now won two from two and this time out edged a tight one in Buducnost. Gyori Audi had an occasionally tough and always noisy game in Denmark in Randers but took the points. It’s looking good for Gyori and Larvik to progress.
Similarly in Group B, two teams have two wins: Krim Ljubljana beat Romanian opponents Oltchim Ramnicu Vâlcea 28:24 and Ferencvaros (they’re called FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria for sponsorship kicks) edged a very close one (but not defensively great) against the Russians Zvezda Zvenigorod.
This week’s fixtures which will all be covered live (and legal) by ehftv.com – over on Premier Sports it looks like ice hockey is being shown when the match of the week would be on so we’re internet-only in the UK – are below:
Wednesday 6pm (UK): SG Flensburg-Handewitt – Reale Ademar Leon
Thursday 7pm – Kadetten Schaffhausen v Fuechse Berlin
Saturday 3pm – St Petersburg v Metalurg
Saturday 3.15pm – Barcelona v Croatia Zagreb
Saturday 3.30pm – Celje Pivovarna Lasko – HCM Constanta
Saturday 4pm – Vive Targi Kielce – Chambery
Saturday 4.15pm – Pick Szeged v Dinamo Minsk
Saturday 6pm – Partizan Belgrade – HSV Hamburg
Sunday 4pm – Atletico Madrid v IK Savehof
Sunday 4pm – Bjerringbro-Silkeborg – Gorenje Velenje
Sunday 6pm – THW Kiel – MKB Veszprem (Match of the Week – Commentary in English)
Sunday 6pm – Montpellier – Chekhovskiye Medvedi
Saturday 4.45pm – Larvik v Gyori Audi
Saturday 5pm – Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea v Zvezda Zvenigorod
Sunday 2.15pm – Krim Liubljani v Ferencvaros Rail Cargo Hungaria
Sunday 6pm – Randers v Buducnost
Blimey … you wait for months for some Champions League handball and then three matches come along at once. If this was US primary season they’d be calling it Super Thursday. As it is, we’ll just direct you to the three games you can see today via the good people at EHF TV (free, uninterrupted but no commentary).
(A recap: this is match round 8 of the group stage. As there are six teams per group there are ten matches and four qualifiers. Quite a lot of the qualification, if not placings, has already been decided).
We start at 2.45pm with Chekhovskie Medvedi at home to HSV Hamburg. The two teams top their group and drew 27:27 in Hamburg back in October. The “Chekhov Bears” (and indeed HSV) have lost to German opposition in the Champions League this year – away t0 Flensburg-Handewitt. Providing the two teams play to their best and field first teams this should be a close one.
That’s followed at 6.30pm by another match from Group A. Partizan Beograd (Belgrade) recorded a home win over Spanish opposition in October but haven’t collected a single point away from home so far. Today they are at Flensburg-Handewitt whose two drawn matches prevent them occupying top spot. This one should not be close.
Finally, at 7pm, a match that could mean a lot for qualification. Pick Szeged have four points, Kadetten Schaffhausen have 2. In their previous encounter in Hungary, Szeged won by the odd point in 59. Schaffhausen’s sole win was at home and if they repeat that today they will be back in the mix for the fourth and final qualifying spot in this group.
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.