Neither semi final was particularly close but the winners won’t care. Serbia closed out Poland for a ten-minute spell in the first half during which they pulled out to a five-goal lead that they only ever looked like adding to; Brazil led by 4 at the break and then scored the first two of the second-half which, combined with a superb goalkeeping performance, saw them control the game and move into the final.
So, there you have it. Two teams who have never contested a final before. When they met in the group stages Brazil won but the final will be a different matter. Firstly, they have picked up a few injuries along the way since then but more importantly the crowd will almost certainly be a 20,000 sell out and there won’t be many Brazilians there (although those that are will be colourful!). By most measures you’d say Brazil were the better team but it is a final that could really go either way.
The scores and upcoming fixtures therefore are:
Poland 18:24 Serbia
Brazil: 27:21 Denmark
3/4 Play Off
Sunday 1.30pm (UK) Poland v Denmark
4.15pm Serbia v Brazil
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.
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.
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.
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.)