Denmark had a relatively easy time, while it was a more close call among the other three teams in the group. However, from the outset it became clear that the Czech team really was not up to the level of its golden days some decades ago. By contrast, the Austrians confirmed the observations from recent months that the have made good progress. In the neighboring group, the reigning world champions from Spain were dominant. Iceland show the effect of missing some key players, and Hungary also failed to impress, but on balance both these teams were strong enough to hold off a very young Norwegian team.
Group C had France as the favorites, but the many injuries and new players on the team had made some observers speculate about a possible surprise. But the French seemed solid (and even had nicer uniforms than the traditional ones…) and won all their games. In my preview I described Russia as the team to watch out for, and their new generation of players with a modern style coach came through, at the expense of the Serbs who were very pale compared with when the played for the home crowd. To nobody’s surprise, Croatia and Sweden were the top teams in group D, with the Croats coming out on top. Belarus managed to beat Montenegro in the game for the final place in the main round.
It is now easy to believe that the four group winners, starting out with four points each, will also be the favorites for the places in the semi-finals. The key games Denmark-Spain and France-Croatia come right at the beginning of the main round. But even the loser in the Denmark-Spain game should be able to hold off the other teams in the group. And it is difficult to imagine that Sweden or Poland should be able to displace the loser from the France-Croatia game. So while the games may be more even and interesting in the main round, chances are that the fight for the semi-final spots will not be so exciting.
The referee performances have been a bit uneven so far. Some of the veteran couples have been unconvincing and some of the couples whose nominations seemed marginal have not been able to justify their nomination. It has been a bit frustrating to see that some decisions seem to come in ‘autopilot’ fashion, without the necessary ability to distinguish between serious fouls and smaller infractions which are exaggerated through ‘theater’ by the ‘victim’.