This may sound like a strange headline, a mathematical impossibility. Surely there must be the same number of winners and losers. But what I mean is that during the first two days, with the first game for each team, there were not so many teams winning their games by doing a great job. Instead, and by contrast, there were several teams that seemed to give away a point or two unnecessarily, by playing without the necessary stability. Admittedly, this may be explained by ‘opening day nerves’ and the reality that the teams have not yet found their rhythm.
For the same reason, it may be very risky to make any firm predictions on the basis of the opening games. But it seems that there may be a smaller number of really strong teams than the pre-event media discussions had suggested. For instance, Group D has been talked about as the ‘group of death’, but yesterday’s games may suggest that Croatia, who did not play great, is lucky by actually not having such a tough opposition. The Croatia-Iceland game yesterday seemed to be a pale copy of the great battles these two teams have fought in recent years. Now it was the goalie, Alilovic, who ‘woke up’ and rescued Croatia at the end.
Some may have seen the defeat of France against Spain as an upset, but in our podcast recently I suggested to John Ryan that France might be in for a bit of a struggle. And Spain seems to have built a solid team, with impressive contributions from some of the newer members of the team. Hungary and Russia seemed to try to outdo each other in efforts to lose their game; in the end, neither one succeeded.
I had talked about Germany as the most unpredictable team. Against the Czechs, they showed themselves from their worst side, leaderless and listless. They will need to come back strongly today against the Macedonians, who are frantically supported by thousands of spectators. Nevertheless, the Swedes did not really have a good excuse for dropping a point against Macedonia.
It had been my prediction that Serbia would do well, not just because of home court advantage but because they have a really talented team. They won convincingly against Poland, although the Poles were hampered by having a couple of key players, including goalkeeper Szmal, missing. Now the Serbs got an injury that may constitute a handicap in today’s key game against Denmark. Make sure to catch that game on EHF’s YouTube broadcasts if you can.
Finally, it may seem premature to talk about the 2013 World Championships. But the EHF just finished up the first round of their qualifying process. France as defending champions and Spain as hosts are of course already qualified for 2013. In addition, the best three of the other 14 teams in EURO2012 will qualify directly. The remaining eleven teams will be paired up together with seven qualifying winners in a ‘knock-out competition’ for nine slots in a few months. The seven qualifying winners this past weekend were: Austria, Portugal, Montenegro, Netherlands, Lithuania, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Belarus.
There was some excitement in the final round. Perennial power Switzerland played well in the final game in the Lithuania, having a seemingly insurmountable lead; but in the end they only managed a tie, which was not enough. Traditional top team Romania could afford to lose by three goals in the final game in Belarus, but they lost by five so that meant an early exit. Portugal surprised somewhat by defeating Ukraine both home and away, and the Bosnians had tight double victories against Greece.