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Powerhouses lead the way as EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers resume

EHF / Adrian Costeiu

Women’s EHF EURO 2022 qualification phase 2 is now in full swing, with the top seeded teams before the start of the six rounds to clash over the next week.

12 berths for the premium European tournament are up for grabs, while the reigning European and world champions Norway are joined by the three hosts – Montenegro, North Macedonia and Slovenia – who are all featuring in the EHF EURO Cup.

We analyse who is hot and who is not as the top European women’s national teams return to the court for the first time since December, when most competed in the IHF Women’s World Championship in Spain.

10. Romania

Romania missed the final tournament of the Women’s EHF EURO only once in history, in 2006, when they were eliminated in the play-offs by Serbia. The prospects are not the best for Romania after the first two games in qualification phase 2, with a draw against Austria seriously hampering their chances of progression.

The good news for Romania is that their top player, left back Cristina Neagu, will make her comeback after a one-year hiatus from the national team. Currently the top goal scorer of the DELO EHF Champions League, with 94 goals, Neagu is in superb form, as highlighted once again on Thursday evening when she scored 13 goals for her club side CSM Bucuresti in the Romanian League match against leaders Rapid.

Facing a double-header against Denmark is always difficult for any team, but Romania look sufficiently equipped to handle a strong challenge, especially at home in the first game scheduled on 2 March.

9. Croatia

The bronze medalists in Denmark in 2020 disappointed in their first two games, sealing a difficult 26:24 win against the Czech Republic and conceding a painful 22:23 loss against Ukraine.

Croatia’s upcoming games against reigning Olympic champions France will be crucial. France will definitely be the favourites in the rematches of the EURO semi-final they won, 30:19, in December 2020, but Croatia’s ambitions will be a thing to see.

Coach Nenad Sostaric has called left back Dejana Milosavljevic into the roster. Milosavljevic has been superb in the DELO EHF Champions League, scoring 42 goals in six games for HC Podravka Vegeta in 2022, but missed the cut for the national side for the IHF Women’s World Championship.

2020126 Croatia

8. Poland

With two clear wins, which yielded a +23 goal difference in the first two games against Lithuania and Switzerland, the inexperienced Poland team are now facing a tough double-header against Russia in the first week of March. However, Arne Senstad’s side, who finished 15th at the World Championship last December, have shown some promising signs of life.

Poland ended Spain 2021 on a high, with wins over Slovenia and Montenegro — two of the teams that will host the EHF EURO 2022. Losses against Serbia and Russia in the same competition last December hurt, but Poland only need one more win to virtually ensure qualification to the final tournament — they are very much eyeing their fifth consecutive participation in the EHF EURO. 

* Note, that based on a decision by the EHF Executive Committee, the match between Poland and Russia has been postponed

7. Germany

Germany’s current team is starting to come of age, but the results have not yielded a medal yet, despite the large pool of talent at their disposal. They mirrored the seventh place sealed at the EHF EURO 2020 in the last major tournament, the IHF Women’s World Championship 2021, where they stood little chance in the quarter-final against Spain.

Dutch coach Henk Groener knows their opponents in March inside out, but the Netherlands will definitely be a tough nut to crack, despite their coaching change.

Germany will also have to make do without their two top right wings, Amelie Berger and Marlene Kalf, and line player Meike Schmelzer. Irrespective of the results against the Netherlands, Germany’s qualification is not seriously under threat, despite a surprise 24:24 draw against Belarus in October.

6. Hungary

After the first two games, against Slovakia and Portugal, Hungary are leading group 5 with a +12 goal difference — six goals more than Spain. Their final placement at the EHF EURO 2020 — 10th — was repeated at Spain 2021.

Hungary’s young team are under the leadership of Vladimir Golovin, who won the gold medals at the W19 EHF EURO in 2019 and the IHF Women’s Junior World Championship in 2018.

Hungary will rely once again on their strong back line, which mixes the experience of Szandra Szollosi-Zacsik with the youth of Greta Kacsor, Katrin Klujber and Noemi Hafra, as they constantly integrate new players into their roster. However, the double-header against Spain will certainly show where Hungary are now.

2020128 Hungary Kovacsics

5. Netherlands

Under the leadership of coach Monique Tijsterman, the Netherlands morphed into an attacking juggernaut, but their painful loss against Norway in the main round of the IHF Women’s World Championship 2021 saw the 2019 world champions eliminated early and finishing ninth in the competition.

The Netherlands took their time before naming a new coach, but Per Johansson, who also led Sweden and Montenegro women’s national teams in the last decade, looks a good choice, especially regarding improving their defensive stance. The two matches against Germany in the first week of March are due to present a difficult challenge for Johansson to start his tenure, but the Dutch only need a win in the last four games to be virtually qualified for their fifth consecutive EHF EURO.

4. Spain

Prior to the losses against Norway and Denmark in the last two games in the World Championship they hosted last December, coach Jose Ignacio Prades was unbeaten on Spain’s bench after taking over in September 2021. The transition from former coach Carlos Viver to Prades has been a smooth one, with Spain once again focusing on their sturdy defence to win games.

The only change, albeit a big one, from the roster that sealed the fourth place in the last major tournament will be the absence of captain Carmen Martin — the right wing who has been synonymous with the success of the ‘Guerreras’ in the last 15 years. “We need to be at 120 per cent against Hungary to seal the win,” said Prades, before the crucial ties in March.

3. Sweden

Draws with the Netherlands and Norway at the World Championship last December certainly cemented Sweden’s spot on the map, following their Olympic Games semi-final appearance over the summer. The Scandinavian side finished fifth at the World Championship after a hard-fought loss against France in the quarter-finals. The young Sweden team looks better and better and will be favoured to beat Serbia in the double-header scheduled for the start of March.

There will be no major changes from the team that secured that fifth place at the World Championship, as coach Tomas Axner looks motivated to build a strong side that can mirror the antics of the men’s team at the EHF EURO 2022.

20201218 Denmark Toft

2. Denmark

Since assuming the coaching position of the Denmark women’s national team, Jesper Jensen has worked wonders. The Scandinavian side finished fourth at the EHF EURO 2020 and secured the bronze medal at the IHF Women’s World Championship 2021 — their first place of silverware in a major tournament since 2013. Preaching a strong defence, Jensen has molded Denmark back into a true powerhouse — and one which has certainly grew over the past two years.

Facing Romania in a double-header could mean Denmark are through to the EHF EURO 2022 before the last two rounds, as they will be favoured against a team that looks in a constant state of rebuild. The goalkeeping pair of Sandra Toft and Althea Reinhardt will be relied upon once again, while the strong back line, led by Mette Tranborg, Line Haugsted and Kristina Jörgensen, will certainly be one to watch during the first week of March.

1. France

Reigning European and world champions Norway are already through to the final tournament of the EHF EURO 2022. Therefore, France, who won the gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the silver medal at the IHF Women’s World Championship 2021, top the chart ahead of the first major international matches since Spain 2021.

However, there have been a few changes from the team that truly took the fight to Norway in two of the last three major tournaments, which saw them concede a loss in the finals at both the EURO and World Championship.

Pauletta Foppa, France’s first choice on the line player position, is out due to injury, which will be a blow for Olivier Krumbholz’s tactical plan. However, experienced players will once again don the national team shirt and Krumbholz will certainly relish a double-header against an old-school, defence-first team like Croatia.

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