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.
8.30pm, Croatia v France (BBC Olympics 7, Sky Channel 456 & BBC online)
Congratulations if you predicted that these would be the four teams to contest the men’s semi finals at the Olympics. Double congratulations if you put money on as your winnings have probably got you a small Caribbean island. But these are the four and they divide into two distinct semi finals, one a heavyweight contest the other a not-so-heavyweight contest.
In the latter is Sweden who are obviously a Handball Giant (TM) but who haven’t won a major title since 2002. This probably explains why they reacted like they’d won the gold medal when they beat Denmark 24:22 in the quarter final. They will need to stay focused to get past Hungary who have equalled their previous best in the Olympics by getting to this stage.
Hungary got to the semi final by beating Iceland in a double extra time match. They showed their strengths in coming from behind at the death twice (once in normal time, again in the first extra time) but also failed to close out big leads during the second half of the match.
My prediction is for a match with wild fluctuations in the lead but that Sweden will emerge victorious where they will play …
Both France and Croatia came from behind in their quarter finals. Croatia endured a particularly physical encounter against Tunisia and were particularly indebted to the fact that Ivan Cupic was able to keep his head and keep scoring. They shouldn’t need quite so much protection from the referees today.
France scored their winning goal on 59:59 having overturned a 3-goal deficit at half time. They’ll need to improve on a shooting percentage of 49% and get some scoring support for William Accambray (who got that last-second goal).
My prediction is for an insanely tight match with occasional violent conduct but that France will edge it by the odd goal in 57.
So having predicted that I look forward to a Hungary v Croatia final.