Women’s EURO 2010: Germany out – 7-goal advantage not enough

Today, when one half of the Main Round is starting, it may be appropriate to offer some comments on the preliminary round. A major women’s handball event in Denmark and Norway is always likely to cause a festive mood, especially if the home teams do well. And when we get to the semifinals in Denmark later in the week, it would be a major surprise if both host teams are not there.

The preliminary round started out in a way that made it look as if we would have predictable results and no particular excitement. But in the end, this is not how it came out. The heading already reveals the main story for those who have not followed events in their daily media. The last thing I read in a German web site before the start was that ‘getting to the semi-finals is fully realistic’. And while a loss against Sweden in the first game was a bit of a setback, the situation at the start of the last group match was highly favorable. Germany could afford to lose by 7 goals against the winless team from Ukraine and still move on.

But the German women collapsed completely. They described themselves as ‘statues’ and ’paralyzed’. In an incredible manner they managed to lose by 10 goals so they are out; not the normal image of German handball! But Ukraine, who had won a qualifying group ahead of the strong Romanians, suddenly showed some qualities. And the Dutch benefited also. They had just lost against Sweden, but with Ukraine advancing instead of Germany, the Dutch now bring two points into the main round.

The Swedish team may be seen as the main positive surprise so far, but now they face tougher opponents in the form of Norway, Hungary and France from the neighboring group. After three straight wins, they will have to fight to avoid three straight losses, as discussed by the more pessimistic experts in Sweden.

Norway ‘obliterated’ Hungary in what had been anticipated as a close fight for the top spot in the group. But especially the performance of the goalkeeper, Katrine Lunde Haraldsen, caused the Hungarians to become desperate. She allowed only 13 goals by the strong Hungarian, and had a save percent of 68 in the first half! Perhaps her playing for the Hungarian club Gyoer this season gave her an edge!? Today we will have Norway playing Sweden, and even the rumors of a major stomach bug in the Norwegian camp cannot prevent them from being the favorites; but who knows…

In the groups played in Denmark, the home team got solid wins against Serbia, Romania and Spain. This should put them in a good position, although they now face Russia and Montenegro, two of the overall favorites. Montenegro showed that their impressive run in the qualifying group was not a fluke, as they prevented Russia from getting revenge. But then the Croatians, who had lost against Russia, brought their Montenegrin neighbors down to earth with a narrow victory in the final group match. All in all, these results seem to play into the hands of the Danish team. Tomorrow’s match pitting Denmark against Russia will be decisive.

Denmark has indeed benefited from a tremendous crowd support. And this should help them a lot the rest of the way. By contrast, there was some embarrassment in Norway, where the first two group matches drew very thin crowds in the huge Lillehammer arena with 11.000 seats. Christmas shopping, school exams, and bad winter weather (in Norway!?) were mentioned as excuses, but many also blamed it on exorbitant ticket prices.

Finally, it seems that, generally speaking, the refereeing has not been a problem area so far. The mixture of the top women couples and a number of couples with substantial experience has been adequate. However, the difficult part of the event remains. And, apropos, ‘tremendous crowd support’, this can unfortunately affect the refereeing as well, not consciously but at least subconsciously. Let us hope that controversies can be avoided, so good luck to all the referees!