EURO 2012: Intriguing match-ups in the semifinals

Serbia and Montenegro had 'bloody' battles in waterpolo in recent Olympics;  let's hope it will be less wild in women's handball!

Serbia and Montenegro had ‘bloody’ battles in waterpolo in recent Olympics; let’s hope it will be less wild in women’s handball!

So finally the long stretch with group matches in the preliminary round and main round is over! It has contained games of good quality and other games where at least the result caused excitement; but the reality is that with so many rounds of group matches, there is room for matches without importance for one or both teams, for capricious results, and for a final main round day with an anticlimax for most teams. If one adds the clear impression that most teams do not really have the stamina and the concentration to play six games in such an intensive schedule, so that their form sometimes is like a ‘roller-coaster’ both from one game to the next and also within a game, then the effect is that we get many disappointing games.

Therefore, it is great that from now on we only have games that clearly matter for both teams and where no manipulation is possible, and where the outcome is not affected by the result in some other game. And the match-ups in the semifinals really look exciting. To see Norway, with its Icelandic coach, play against Hungary with its new, well-known Norwegian coach is interesting enough. But to see Serbia take on Montenegro in the other semifinal is even more spectacular. After all, Serbia and Montenegro existed as one entity from 1992 to 2006, first as a ‘federation’ and then as a ‘State union of Serbia and Montenegro’ until Montenegro became independent after a popular referendum. To say that both the federation/union construct and the subsequent separation have had its controversies is a mild understatement…

For Montenegro there is now a chance of improving on the sensational silver medal from the Olympics earlier this year. I commented before EURO 2012 that there was a lot of speculation as to whether the Olympic success would serve as an inspiration or be the cause of a letdown. I think we have the answer now. And the current success has happened without the famous, now retired, Bojana Popovic. In the case of Serbia, I speculated that the team might not really be strong enough to be a medal candidate but that the support of the home crowds might help turn them into a contender. That also seems to have worked.

Norway continues to have the largest group of strong individual players. And in several matches, like against France, they have really showed their class. What has made some observers wonder, however, is that they have had problems in some other games. But most people would probably still see them as favorites. I predicted that Hungary would come through a seemingly difficult draw and make it to the semi-finals. And they now have the advantage of a coach who knows the Norwegian methods and individual talents better than anyone else. (Moreover, he is the ‘signficant other’ of Norwegian star Heidi Loeke!) Can he help the Hungarians come up with a winning formula?

Before EURO 2012 started, I also referred to media speculation that Spain might not this time be as strong as before, while Germany might cause a surprise. In the end, that speculation seems justified. Germany came extremely close to the chance of playing in the 5th place game. But Russia improved after a shaky start and passed Germany on more goals scored in aggregate, after gaining the same points and goal difference. A bit of luck with some referee decisions did not hurt. The Swedes and the young, rebuilt Danish team were too uneven to get to the semifinals, but the Danes at least made it to the 5th place game. The real disappointment was the overall performance of the French team.