While Hungary and Denmark cannot escape being favourites in their opening matches against Russia and Ukraine (in Group A and B respectively) the other two encounters in these groups appear slightly more open. Spain will play their opening match against Poland in Group A, and Norway will face Romania in Group B.
Group A – Spain vs Poland, Sunday 7 December, 18:00 hrs
Spain have high expectations, while Poland were a big surprise at the World Championship last year in Serbia, qualifying for the semi-final.
“A gold medal will be just what we need,” experienced Spanish left wing Elisabeth Pinedo Saenz told ehf-euro.com recently. Saenz made no secret of the fact that she sees her team as one of the favourites for the title.
Poland will be Spain’s first hurdle on their possible road to that triumph, and if the Polish team is at the same level as they were a year ago, they will prove to be a handful for the Spaniards.
However, the team under Danish coach Kim Rasmussen have been bothered by injuries and lack of stability lately. On Sunday evening, they will have to start proving their performance last year was not a one-off success.
Despite Poland’s ultimate success at the World Championship 2013, they suffered a 26:20 defeat to Spain in the preliminary round in Serbia. Spain will not mind a repeat of that game this Sunday.
Group A – Hungary vs. Russia, Sunday 7 December, 20:30 hrs
What are Hungary capable of without Anita Görbicz? We may get an answer to that question on Sunday night, when the Hungarians begin their first competitive tournament without the pregnant star.
“There is no replacement for her,” another of Hungary’s stars, Zsuzsanna Tomori, said recently.
Görbicz will have to be replaced if the hosts are going to progress as far as hoped in the tournament, though her absence may be compensated for by the support from the home crowd in Györ’s Audi Arena.
Another big question is what Russia are capable of. Being back in a major tournament after sensationally missing the World Championship last year, the Russians will be eager to prove they belong at the top of the international stage.
Evgeny Trefilov, coach of the Russia women’s team throughout their long reign as one of the most dominant teams in women’s handball, is back as national coach once again and will undoubtedly do his best to motivate his team.
Group B – Norway vs Romania, Sunday 7 December 18:15 hrs
At first sight, Norway are pretty big favourites in this opening match in Group B. However, an experienced Romanian team, who will be hungry for success after finishing tenth at the EHF EURO 2012 as well as at the World Championship 2013, is not likely to be an easy task at all.
The last time Romania won a medal at a major championship was at the EHF EURO 2010 when they took the bronze. Under experienced coach Gheorghe Tadici, the team appear well prepared for their attempt to repeat that task.
Therefore, it is only natural that the Norwegians are cautious ahead of their first game in the Fönix Hall, Debrecen.
“The Romanians have been considerably reinforced by Cristina Neagu being fit from injury,” Norway’s assistant coach Mia Hermansson-Högdahl said at the Norwegian team’s press conference Saturday.
“I am sure the Romanian attacking play is going to put particularly heavy pressure on the right side of our defence.
“Furthermore, they have some tall and strong back court players who play brilliantly with the line player, so we will have to prepared for that too,” Högdahl added.
Group B – Denmark vs Ukraine, Sunday 7 December 20:30 hrs
Denmark are favourites in the second of Sunday’s matches in Debrecen, and they are not trying to run away from that fact in any way, although national coach Jan Pytlick issued a word of warning on Saturday.
“In our qualification matches we saw that Ukraine is a team that can bother us,” Pytlick said, referring to the two matches between Denmark and Ukraine in the qualification tournament for EHF EURO 2014. Denmark did win the two matches, but in both cases, those wins were relatively modest.
The Danes won 28:26 at home after leading 17:11 at half-time, while in the away match, which was played in Mihalovce in Slovakia due to the political situation in Ukraine, was a bit more convincing (28:24).
Since then though, Ukraine have been weakened as one of their highest scoring players Iuliia Managarova changed nationality and became a Russian citizen.
But even before the start of the tournament, Ukraine are sure of at least one record – they have the oldest coach in the competition, 76-year-old Leonid Ratner, who is also one of the most experienced.
“Our group is probably the strongest in the tournament. My intuition tells me that we will see surprising final standings in our group,” Ratner told ehf-euro.com.
Perhaps he is thinking of surprises made by his own team – and maybe against Denmark.