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07/12/2014

Key encounters throw off EHF EURO in Groups C and D

PREVIEW: The first games are already key games at the very start of the competition in Groups C and D, including a much-anticipated 'Balkan duel'

Photo: Uros Hocevar

In a reprise of the Women’s EHF EURO 2012 Semi-final, Montenegro and Serbia will cross swords again in Group D, while France can’t evade the role of the favourites in their match against Slovakia.

The way the Group C matches are scheduled suggests that a lot could be decided regarding the preliminary group placement with only the first round being played.

Germany is facing Netherlands, while co-hosts Croatia will battle it out against Sweden.

Group C - Germany vs Netherlands, Monday 8 December, 18:00 hrs

As all the early predictions imply, the Netherlands will hope for their recent run of good form in the preparation matches to continue, as they face Germany.

There are no injuries, nor issues currently in the ‘Oranje’ squad, aside from Lois Abbingh and Maura Visser, who were already known as missing from the tournament squad.

The team will be lead by the experienced stars such as Danick Snelder and Nycke Groot.

"It is a very open but also a very tough group," said Netherlands' line player Nycke Groot to ehf-euro.com prior to the event.

"I think every team can beat the other. Germany plays physically strong and has two great goalkeepers," Groot added, while her coach Henk Groener shares her opinion.

"There is no doubt we need to be on top of our game for all three matches in order to advance to the next round."

Germany are likely to opt for Clara Woltering in goal and the experienced line player Anja Althaus to lead the way against the Netherlands, in absence of one their biggest stars, right back Susann Müller, who is recovering from a broken finger.

Despite being without Müller for the opening match, coach Heine Jensen is keeping his hopes high.

"We will keep all our options open, and hope Susann makes further progress in her recovery," he said.

Group C - Sweden vs Croatia, Monday 8 December, 20:15 hrs

Croatia are among the very few teams facing a clean bill of health at the start of the Women’s EHF EURO 2014.

The team will be firing on all cylinders in front of the home crowd, in a bid to kick-start their EHF EURO campaign with a win against Sweden.

"It feels so good to be playing in front of the home crowd. We are in a good form and buzzing with excitement to play in front of the full arena in Varazdin," goalkeeper Marta Zderic said.

"Our team is as strong as possible at this moment. In comparison to the previous EURO, we now have Tatari, Horvat, Grubisic; and needless to say, Andrea Penezic is the one that can turn the match in our favour," said Croatian coach Vladmimir Canjuga.

Sweden will be feeling cautiously optimistic before their game, aware of the perils of an home-crowd advantage. For the Swedish side, a lot will depend on the form Linnea Torstensson, as the left back has been struggling to get back on the court, in a battle against time with her calf injury.

"As hosts, Croatia will obviously have an edge," said Swedish coach Thomas Sivertsson for ehf-euro.com.

"It is a group, in which we can win all our three matches, but where may also get into trouble against all three opponents," added Sivertsson.

Group D - France vs Slovakia, Monday 8 December, 18:00 hrs

The last encounter of these two teams was a historic moment for the underdogs as Slovakia worked as one unit to shock the much-favoured France in a 24:24 draw that secured them the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 berth.

France have not really find their desired rhythm since the Olympic Games in London 2012, even with new coach Alain Portes taking over last year.

However, they are determined to turn things around in their favour at the Women’s EHF EURO 2014, starting with encounter with Slovakia.

"This match can really set the tone of the competition for us,” French coach Alain Portes told ehf-euro.com.

"If we play well and we win, confidence and a sense of positivity will settle in. But if we lose, keeping in mind that we will face Serbia and Montenegro afterwards, we would put ourselves in a very dangerous situation."

Apart from line player Dominika Hornakova who is undergoing treatment for her ankle, the entire Slovakian team is fully fit and hopes to produce another performance of highest quality in a bid to upset France.

"I believe there is always a moment when you have your chance to succeed,” said Slovakia coach Dusan Poloz. "You never know what will happen. One can qualify (for the Main Round) even with one point."

Group D - Montenegro vs Serbia, Monday 8 December, 20:15 hrs

The reigning champions Montenegro have already labeled Serbia as the favourites for their Group D match, but didn’t hide the fact that it is a key game of the group for them.

Serbia got the shorter end of the stick in their previous encounter, losing the semi-final at the Women’s EHF EURO 2012 26:27 and they will be eager to take revenge now.

"Serbia are the favourites. They have done a lot in the past two years, being the world vice champions. Their motivation and willingness to defeat Montenegro is unquestionable.

"I’m sure it’s going to be one of the best matches of the tournament," said Montenegro coach Dragan Adzic.

Both teams have reasonable doubts about the form of their players with Montenegro Sara Vukcevic missing out on the tournament squad, while Katarina Bulatovic and Jovanka Radicevic will be fully fit for the first match.

Against Montenegro, Serbia will have to rely on the off-court influence of their captain Andrea Lekic, while Kristina Liscevic is in major doubt. Sanja Damnjanovic, however, will be available for this match.

"I am still uncertain how we will line up for the game against Montenegro. Lekic is still not ready to feature, but our injured players are well on the road to recovery. We will not rush into anything just yet," said Serbia coach Sasa Boskovic.

written by Nemanja Savic / ts

Photos

Group A: Hungary vs. Russia