At this point, two of the groups have played two matches per team, while two groups just have had one round. We already have some teams qualified for the main round, and for the most part we have not seen major surprises.
In group C, Spain has shown that injuries and hints of poor form have not prevented them from grabbing two straight victories in an otherwise very evenly matched group. Croatia surprised Hungary on the first day, but the Hungarians came back and defeated Germany. The Germans are without a win so far but could still make it to the main round. As expected, group D has become a tough fight between three teams who are trying to maximize the points that they can carry to the main round. Montenegro was impressive against Russia, and they did not seem to miss their retired star Popovic. Romania also seemed to be able to get a comfortable win against Russia, mainly due to a spectacular performance by the young goalie Tolnai, but the Russians managed to come back and tie the game.
In Group A, Norway seemed comfortable during much of the game, but in the end they just barely managed to hold off the home team Serbia. The Czechs lived up to my ‘dark horse’ label and got a nice win against Ukraine. The Scandinavian ‘derby’ between Denmark and Sweden turned out to be just as exciting as had been expected, at least in terms of result. It was a game mostly characterized by technical mistakes and turnovers, and the Swedes seemed feeble in the early going. But towards the end it almost looked as if the Danes tried to give the game away through endless mistakes. And indeed, the Swedes turned a five-goal deficit into a 27-26 win. France seemed just as powerful as in the past, when running over FYRO Macedonia.
When the Netherlands pulled out as a host for this event at a very late stage, it is understandable that the EHF did not have much of a choice; and they cannot be criticized for accepting Serbia’s bid, after the very successful men’s championship at the beginning of the year. But it is apparent that women’s handball is not much of an attraction in Serbia. With the exception of the games involving the home teams and the near neighbors Montenegro and Romania, the halls looked miserably empty. Not exactly the image and propaganda that we want for women’s handball at the top level. It seems there are very few countries that can guarantee full arenas when the women come to play!
But the real scandal took place in the Norway-Serbia game. I thought that the situation involving the notorious Gunnar Prokop entering the court to stop a fastbreak for the opponents some years ago would remain unique. But here we had the Serbian coach Boskovic reach in and grab the arm and shirt of a Norwegian player on two occasions, to prevent her from her intended movement on the court. It is fully understandable that it was not detected by the referees, but I am somewhat disappointed that the match supervisors also failed to spot it. As it happens, the EHF (unlike the IHF) has a Legal Regulation that allows the EHF to initiate disciplinary proceedings on its own, and with the help of video evidence. I would be extremely disappointed if the EHF did not ensure that the Serbian coach at least gets barred from the rest of this event. This kind of action must be punished and discouraged as strongly as possible.