Norway head up EHF EURO 2020 power rankings
There are 16 teams vying for a medal in Denmark, but only one will take home the champions’ trophy. As usual, the EHF journalists have put their heads together to produce a power ranking, identifying the teams to beat prior to the tournament’s throw off.
Two years ago, France were the team to beat, but, this time around Norway look like worthy challengers to avenge their mediocre EHF EURO 2018.
Adding Ambros Martin to the fold last year was a cultural shock for the Russian team. Yet it did not look like it one year ago, when Russia won bronze at the IHF Women’s World Championship. In Japan, the match looked like it was made in heaven, with a perfect mix of experience and young talent and a special coach on the bench.
However, Russia’s lead-in to the EHF EURO has been less smooth. First, Martin lost left backs Anna Sen and Elena Mikhaylichenko, both of whom were in form in the DELO EHF Champions League. Only 19, CSKA star Mikhaylichenko looked like Russia’s future, but has been ruled out following a cruciate ligament injury in early November, while Sen has injured her knee.
But the real blow was Anna Vyakhireva’s back injury less than a fortnight ago, which ruled her out for the tournament. The EHF EURO 2018 MVP was pivotal for Russia’s success in attack and, put simply, has been unstoppable for the last two years.
Without three of their most important backs, Russia can still hurt some opponents with the physicality and experience, but those absences relegate them to eighth place in our power rankings ahead of the EHF EURO 2020.
Despite finishing 10th at the EHF EURO 2018 and eighth one year later at the IHF Women’s World Championship, Germany’s change of guard looks to be better and better. Their strong back line, with the likes of Emily Bölk, Evgenija Minevskaja, Julia Maidhof and Alina Grijseels, means Germany can exert pressure on any opponent.
They impressed two years ago when they beat Norway, but their lack of experience was their undoing. Eliminating any off moments during games remains Germany’s challenge.
Most of the German team this year are now plying their trade in the DELO EHF Champions League, with great individual performances – although SG BBM Bietigheim and Borussia Dortmund, which have contributed nine players between them to the German roster, have struggled to find winning form.
Coach Henk Groener’s situation at the championships is still uncertain, as he is currently in quarantine. But Germany have the experience to overcome obstacles thrown at them.
Romania have never finished lower than 10th in the past six EHF EURO tournaments, therefore including them in the best teams of the tournament is a must – especially when they have Cristina Neagu on their roster. One of the best players around, Neagu is the competition’s all-time top scorer with 237 goals.
However, it is the supporting cast which relegates Romania to sixth in our power rankings. Losing line player Crina Pintea to a Covid-19 positive test was a huge blow, both for attack and for defence, as Pintea was the All-star line player at the EHF EURO 2018.
Led by a defence-first coach, George-Bogdan Burcea, Romania can still squeeze some results out of their roster. However, if they are to contend for a medal, Burcea’s system must have been integrated into the team in the week they had before the tournament and Neagu has to fire on all cylinders. Five players will make their debut in the Romanian roster, but, all in all, the side looks connected and ready to go.
The current title holders, France, work their magic best when they are underdogs. Two years ago, all eyes were on them as they hosted the tournament and produced a vintage performance to secure their first ever EHF EURO gold.
It certainly looks like France have taken a step back, as suggested by their 13th place in the World Championship last year. But you can never know what legendary coach Olivier Krumbholz will pull out of the hat. A mastermind and a defensive specialist, Krumbholz can stop any attack and this will surely be his plan, especially with playmaker Allison Pineau out of the team after breaking her nose during a DELO EHF Champions League game.
There is likely some pressure on the French shoulders as they come in as the title holders, while also opening the tournament in a tough group featuring Denmark, Montenegro and Slovenia. France have tended to struggle in the first matches of a tournament, but if they can get through these, they will be challengers for a repeat title.
The hosts look primed to challenge for a medal this year, an elusive goal that has evaded the Danish side since 2004. Denmark have finished fourth twice in the past 16 years in the EHF EURO, but their golden generation to be never materialised, leaving the Nordic side in a continuous state of rebuild.
This year, they are trying to emulate the result from EHF EURO 2002, when they won the tournament they hosted.
This will be the first championships for coach Jesper Jensen, a handball mind who has earned plaudits for his job at Team Esbjerg in the past three years. But a club team is totally different from a national side, so Jensen will need a few adjustments, including managing the players in a busy schedule.
Denmark boasts one of the youngest sides in the competition, yet they still have experience and it will be the strength of the team, rather than individual players, which will give them a successful tournament.
“Las Guerreras”, the nickname of the Spanish women’s national team, means “warriors”. This is exactly what coach Carlos Viver will want to see from Spain at the EHF EURO 2020 – the same warrior-like mentality, which has provided medals in the past decade.
More recently it looked like Spain were slipping away from the top ranks, but they replied beautifully in 2019 with a silver medal at the World Championship.
There is not a lot that has changed in Spanish handball over the past years, with “Las Guerreras” deploying the same physical style, with a great defensive nous, that can easily unbalance even the most experienced sides.
While experienced back Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa will miss the tournament due to an injury, Spain will rely once again on their tested core. In particular team captain, right wing Carmen Martin, will make her comeback after missing last year’s World Championship through an injury.
After her mid-season transfer to Team Esbjerg, Nerea Pena looks primed to lead the Spanish attack once again, while 41-year-old goalkeeper Silvia Navarro, the most experienced player in the tournament, will provide much-needed calm between the goalposts. With the same recipe, Spain are likely to be the dark horses to look out for once again.
The Netherlands have won a medal at each of the last four tournaments they have played, with the gold finally coming at the IHF Women’s World Championship last year. French coach Emmanuel Mayonnade has found the key to truly unlock the potential for the Dutch side, who finished second and third in the last EHF EURO tournaments.
This time around, however, the Netherlands will miss influential back Estavana Polman, the MVP of last year’s World Championship, who suffered a season-ending knee injury back in September. Her workload will surely be divided between several players, with reliable left back Lois Abbingh carrying most of it.
The Netherlands’ core is still intact, with young players like Dione Housheer, Nikita van der Vliet and Bo van Wetering trying to emerge in a competitive side.
“It takes a lost final to win one,” said Polman after winning the World Championship in 2019. While Polman may not be at the EHF EURO 2020, her words will surely resonate with her teammates, who are primed to go all the way in Denmark.
Two years ago, it was hard to see past Norway winning their seventh trophy in the EHF EURO. Yet injuries to their key players and roster changes saw the previous title holders finish fifth, their worst result since 2000. This means Norway will try and come back with a bang and they look like nailed-on favourites, despite not hosting the tournament due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Two wins in as many friendly games against Denmark last week, 27:25 and 29:26, highlighted Norway’s potential and how well their system still works. They had trouble in the goalkeeping area, but Katrine Lunde, a four-time gold medalist at the EHF EURO, will join the side and will be able to take part in the competition from the third game.
Moreover, Norway welcomed back Nora Mørk into the fold and the diminutive right back is healthy and rested, since her team, Vipers Kristiansand, played only four games in this season’s DELO EHF Champions League.
The only question is if Norway have learnt from their past mistakes. Their chances to progress to the final weekend two years ago were obliterated by losses against Germany and Romania in the group phase – losses that Norway can avenge when they meet the two teams in the same phase of this competition this December.
All in all, Norway’s experienced side, with a system put in place by coach Thorir Hergeirsson since 2009, look like the team to beat in this tournament.