All-European clashes for world title and Tokyo tickets
When the last day of the main round started, six teams could still join already-qualified Russia into the semi-finals.
Even before throw-off of the last match in both groups, five teams were still hopeful: the second stage of the IHF Women’s World Championship 2019 in Japan ended as a pure thriller on Wednesday.
With one exception: Olympic champions and EHF EURO 2018 runners-up Russia have been crushing their opponents.
The team is heavily relying on DELO WOMEN’S EHF Champions League side Rostov-Don. Last season’s runners-up are providing the head coach, Ambros Martin, as well as a large part of the Russian squad.
Russia are the only unbeaten side in Kumamoto, with eight victories from eight matches, making them the major gold favourites.
The Rostov players in the squad will meet teammate Lois Abbingh when Russia take on Netherlands in the first semi-final on Friday at 9:30 CET, three hours before Norway and Spain will duel for the other place in Sunday’s final.
In both main round groups, the major decisions were taken only in the closing stages of the last matches.
Group 1: Norway and Netherlands advance
In group 1, EHF EURO record champions Norway won all three matches to end on top, but were fiercely challenged by Denmark and Germany.
The Danes gave away a clear lead, while the Germans were chasing the injury-struck Norwegians until the very end, with the side of head coach Thorir Hergeirson edging ahead only in the dying minutes.
The Norwegian 32:29 win over Germany made the Dutch side jump for joy. Netherlands had started the main round with defeats to Germany and Denmark before taking a clear 40:33 victory against Korea.
Still, Netherlands needed help in the later matches from either Serbia (which they didn’t get, as they drew 26:26 with Denmark) or Norway, the team Netherlands beat in the preliminary round.
The results mean that Netherlands reached the semi-final for the sixth consecutive major tournament: worlds in 2015 and 2017, EHF EURO in 2016 and 2018, Olympics in 2016 - though they are yet to win a gold medal.
Germany missed two chances to make it to the semi-finals. Against Serbia, a last-second penalty from Kristina Liscevic handed them a 29:28 defeat. Against Norway, goalkeeper Silje Solberg stood in their way.
Serbia finished the group in third and will meet neighbours Montenegro in the 5/6 placement match, while Germany must beat Sweden for the last ticket to the Olympic qualification tournaments.
Three-times Olympic gold medallists Denmark finished the group in fifth, and ninth overall, meaning they are out of the race for the Olympic tickets and will miss the Games for a third consecutive time.
Group 2: Spain join Russia into semi-finals
In Group 2, Russia remained unstoppable and added three more victories, after ending the preliminary round with five straight wins.
Russia, heavily relying on Rostov-Don players, were briefly down against Montenegro before coming away with a seven-goal win (35:28), their closest victory so far.
Already record four-time champions, Russia can add title No. 5 on Sunday. It would be their first title since 2009.
In the battle for the second semi-final spot from this group, Spain came out on top, despite an earlier 36:26 drubbing by Russia.
But Spain were helped by Montenegro, who defeated Sweden - semi-finalists two years ago - by three goals, 26:23.
Romania lost all main round games and finished the tournament in 12th. Still, Cristina Neagu & Co will be part of the Olympic qualification tournaments in April as the best ranked team from EHF EURO 2018, where they finished fourth.
Sweden also have their Olympic qualifying ticket in the pocket. If they beat Germany in the 7/8 placement match, Hungary would snatch the second ticket based on last year’s EHF EURO.
But if Germany win, then Sweden are the lucky ones to pick up the ticket as the second best ranked team from the EHF EURO not qualified from the World Championship.
Having missed out on the main round, 2017 world champions France finished ‘best of the rest’ by defeating Hungary 26:21 in the 13/14 placement match.
Women’s World Championship 2019:
- Russia vs Netherlands
- Norway vs Spain
5/6 placement match:
- Serbia vs Montenegro
7/8 placement match:
- Germany vs Sweden
Final ranking of other European teams:
Photos courtesy of IHFAuthor: Björn Pazen / ew