EURO 2008 –> 2010: not much is changing in two years

The main comment from the qualifying groups for the women’s European Championship later this year has to be about the success of the team from Iceland. We are used to strong men’s teams from Iceland, but the women have never had any results to boast with. Now they knocked out Austria, and the failure by the Austrians to qualify may in itself be seen as a bit surprising by some. But hasn’t the poor status of women’s handball in Austria really been masked for many years by the successes of Hypo and by national team results mainly achieved thanks to ‘imports’ from all over Eastern Europe? The league is so weak that Hypo’s youth/reserve is totally superior, while Hypo’s main team does not even bother to play in the league.

But apart from this, there was not much new or surprising happening in the qualifying. Four of the teams who participated in the 2008 Championships failed to qualify this time. Apart from Austria, this involved very narrow failures for Belarus and FYR Macedonia, whereas Portugal seemed to show that the successes in 2008 was a one-time affair, as they had no chance this time. Belarus had the same points as Slovenia, but they missed out due to the aggregate results in the matches between the two teams. It was even closer between Netherlands and FYR Macedonia, where Netherlands managed to tie the game between the two teams on the final match day; this was exactly what was needed. The other ‘new’ team for the final event in December is Montenegro, who won their group in impressive style, taking 3 points of 4 against Russia. Perhaps it should also be noted that the traditionally strong women’s team from Poland failed to qualify for the second straight time.

In fact, if one looks at the men’s side, where of course the 2010 finals already took place back in January, the picture is not very different. Only 3 teams of 16 were different from 2008. Serbia and Ukraine participated this time, together with the host Austria. These three teams replaced Belarus, Montenegro and Slovakia. One might ask if the very limited turnover is surprising or not; and one might ask whether it is good or bad? Does it possibly have something to do with the format for the qualifying – do the previous participants have a situation that makes it too easy to repeat? And surely it is sacrilege to suggest that the ‘stability’ indicates that the European Championship is held too often? Perhaps it would be more helpful to ask if anything can/should be done to help some of the ‘other’ countries to progress to the level that they can qualify…