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02.12.2016, 11:34
Rejuvenated Romania ready for tough preliminary round
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TEAM CHECK ROMANIA: A new coach, some fresh faces and a lot of ambition – their recipe for the EHF EURO may not be perfect, but spirits are high in the Romanian camp
 

Rejuvenated Romania ready for tough preliminary round

Romania’s status as one of the powerhouses in women’s handball has been confirmed time and time again, as the ‘Tricolore’ have qualified for every edition of the EHF EURO apart from just one (2006).

But in 2016, Romania’s women’s national team is freshly reincarnated, with a new, albeit well-respected coach, Ambros Martin, and a plethora of young stars waiting to seize their chance for glory.

The rejuvenated team will likely have their eyes on Tokyo 2020, but the Romanian tradition says the rebuilding process must win plaudits with results.

The roster

The 48-year old Spanish coach had little time – less than two months – to build a competitive squad for the EHF EURO 2016 in Sweden.

While the talent pool is large, Martin did have to cope with a number of injuries and an important retirement as Aurelia Bradeanu decided to call it quits.

During her long, decorated career Bradeanu played 270 games for Romania, and won one silver medal in the World Championship, as well as bronze medals at the EHF EURO 2010 and last year’s World Championship.

Gabriela Perianu, the 22-year-old left back who has become an integral part of the Romanian squad – particularly in defence – suffered an injury three weeks ago and will miss the tournament.

But the most serious situation is on the left wing, where three senior players are injured and have no chance of fighting for a medal in Sweden.

Former captain Valentina Ardean-Elisei has broken her knee ligaments, while Camelia Hotea and Ana Maria Tanasie will return in 2017. Ana Maria Iuganu and youngster Elena Cristina Florica will play their first major tournaments, while powerful back Florina Cristina Zamfir is rejoining the team after being left out of the squad by Tomas Ryde.

Joining the team in centre back is former youth world champion, Cristina Laslo, who is one of Romania’s biggest promises for the future and will likely be the main playmaker in the coming years.

The attack

It is no secret that Romania’s main weapon is Cristina Neagu, and every team that faces the World Championship 2015 bronze medallists tries to hamper her movement on the field. The top scorer of the Women’s EHF Champions League 2014/15 and All-star left back at the EHF EURO 2014 will be the go-to player for every Romanian attack.

But Neagu suffered a sprained ankle almost as soon as the squad came together for EURO preparation, adding to her shoulder and knee injuries, and leaving the Romanian side sweating over their star’s fitness.

“I had a shoulder injury that made training at full strength impossible for the last days. I hope everything will be OK, because our group is very tough,” said Neagu in a press conference.

Attack seems to be the cause of most problems for the Romanian national team, as they only once scored more than 30 goals against the Romanian B team during preparation for the EURO.

A 19:23 defeat against Serbia followed by a 24:23 win versus the Netherlands and a 24:29 loss against Hungary over the last two months underline the nagging problems coach Martin needs to fix.

The defence

Bradeanu’s retirement left a big void to fill, as ‘Mica’ has been the heart and soul of the Romanian defence for at least a decade.

With Perianu’s absence, Martin – a specialist in powerful defensive systems – will likely work toward developing an iron-clad partnership between Ibolya Gabriella Szucs and Crina Pintea. Both are considered defensive-minded players with the strength and brains to stop their opponents.

But if both Szucs and Pintea play as defensive specialists, Romania would have to make two changes in transitions, and Martin may therefore prefer to make do with an alternative as a central defender.

The coach

The relationship between Tomas Ryde and several senior players in the squad was strained in 2016, which was somewhat of a surprise following the successful World Championship last December when Romania brought home the bronze medals.

An epic collapse saw Romania fail to pass the preliminary round at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, after which Ryde deemed his position untenable. The Swedish coach quit in October, less than two months before the start of the EHF EURO, and Martin was named his successor.

48-year-old Matin has won the Women’s EHF Champions League twice with Györ, and is now debuting as a national team coach with the goal of replicating his club success on an international level.

A mastermind in defence with crafty solutions in attack, Martin is one of the biggest names in women’s handball and his experience will surely bring a lot to the table, especially in discipline and tactics.

The outlook

There is always a feeling that Romania will not be quite ready, but the talent pool is big and the team are always bringing new solutions to the table. With players like Laslo and Laura Popa emerging and others close behind, Romania should never be discounted as a dark horse.

The plan is to build a competitive side for Tokyo 2020, but expectations are high every December as the women’s handball team is one of the few performing at a top level in the Romanian sport.

“We are talking about an Olympic cycle, but I am quite focused on the short-term vision,” said Neagu, who has been named as new team captain. “I am not young anymore – I will be 29 next year and time is running out for me. That is why I really want performance now. To win a medal would be amazing.”

“It is a tough group, against Russia, Norway and Croatia. The realistic objective would be to head to the main round and maybe we will be able to fight for a medal.”

The 18 players (to be reduced to 16) nominated by Romania for the Women's EHF EURO 2016

Goalkeepers: Paula Ungureanu (CSM Bucuresti), Denisa Dedu (Corona Brasov), Yuliya Dumanska (HC Dunarea Braila)

Left wings: Ana Maria Iuganu (HCM Roman), Elena Florica (HCM Ramnicu Valcea)

Left backs: Cristina Neagu (Buducnost), Cristina Zamfir (SCM Craiova), Ibolya Gabriella Szucs (HC Dunarea Braila)

Centre backs: Maria Zamfirescu (HC Dunarea Braila), Eliza Buceschi (free agent), Cristina Laslo (Universitatea Alexandrion Cluj)

Right backs: Melinda Geiger (Brest Bretagne Handball), Laura Popa (Universitatea Alexandrion Cluj)

Right wings: Laura Chiper (Corona Brasov), Aneta Udristoiu (HC Dunarea Braila)

Line players: Oana Manea (CSM Bucuresti), Florina Chintoan (Universitatea Alexandrion Cluj), Crina Pintea (Thüringer HC)


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg / ts
 
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