Owing to my ongoing battle with my broadband I only actually saw one of the quarter finals as they happened. It turned out to be the one no one was talking about. Which is a shame but let’s see what else happened in the quarters and look ahead to Friday’s semis.
Brazil 33:31 Hungary (2OT)
This is the one I saw. A brutal, captivating match which both teams at times thought they’d taken control of. 2012 World Player of the Year Alexandra do Nascimento hit the net 10 times for the Brazilians as both teams combined hard defence with steady attack – and the occasional burst of cynicism. It was 26:26 at the end, 29:29 when the first OT period session ended – and then Brazil had the stamina to ride out the second period of overtime. Whatever happens now this is the Brazilian’s best ever result in the World Championships.
Poland 22:21 France
A win in regulation and, from what I saw, a pretty uninvolving game. Poland had a 2-3 goal cushion for most of the match and whenever France got back into it, Poland stepped things up again. As with Brazil this is now Poland’s best ever showing in the World Championships. France were runners-up last time and will presumably be mightily peeved and yet again having a match where there rhythm was so sadly lacking.
Serbia 28:25 Norway
The translated headline in one of the Norwegian papers I looked at says that the players are “fucking annoyed” with the criticism they are getting. But the Norwegians have now gone from holding all three major titles to just having their Olympic crown to defend and this time they blew a five-goal second-half lead to lose by three. The noise of the crowd is insane on the YouTube reruns but that doesn’t really explain how much Norway lost it. Serbia really must fancy their chances now. Serbia have made the semi finals once before – so this is almost their best performance in the World Championships.
Denmark 31:28 Germany
For the Germans Susann Müller hit 12 but they still lost. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. Giving up 7 7m penalties and watching 6 of them be converted will hurt you. Denmark progress and are probably the most traditionally strong team left in what is now a wide-open tournament.
The Semi Finals – all live on Bet365 live streaming
5pm (UK) – Serbia v Poland
Did anyone predict this? No, of course you didn’t. It’d now be a surprise for anything other than a Serb victory. The Belgrade Arena is going to be filled with 16,500 noisy Serbs and more large flags than there is space for. Poland need to stifle them like they did France but I just can’t see it happening. But then I was 0/4 on my quarter final predictions.
7.45pm – Brazil v Denmark
The Brazilians will be a force come Rio 2016 if things carry on this way. Able to muscle-up against the physical play of Hungary they also have some sharp shooters and some nice moves. Denmark are Denmark though, and have a handball pedigree like few others (especially now Norway are gone) but haven’t won a title (World/Olympic/European) since 2004. I suspect the bookies will make Brazil favourites but I honestly don’t know which way this one will go.
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.
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.)
After two surprisingly straightforward semi finals the hope is that Russia and Denmark are closely enough matched (they are both unbeaten in the tournament) that the final should be a classic.
Denmark were four up against Romania by the break before running out eventual winners 39:28. Mette Tranborg top-scored for the Danes with 9 goals.
In the other match Russia took over the match after early exchanges of goals. By half time they led by 6 and despite Norway occasionally looking like they might pull it back they never got close enough to really trouble the Russians. The final score was 33:27.
The final will be available here and starts at 5.15pm UK. The bronze medal match is at 3pm UK.