A chance to make history

PREVIEW: When Spain take to the court against Norway for the EHF EURO 2014 Final, they have the opportunity to win gold for the first time - and they are ready to grab that chance

Photo: Stephane Pillaud

After narrowly defeating EHF EURO 2012 champions Montenegro 19:18 thanks to an exceptional first half in their semi-final on Friday night in Budapest, Spain will face Norway in what will be only the second time the team have played the final of the tournament.

Spain and Norway have already met in the EHF EURO 2014, with Norway emerging the victor from the thrilling main round match.

Norway won the game by three goals (29:26), but the difference was not reflective of how closely matched the teams were and Spain's superb performance.

Norway may be the most successful EHF EURO team of any, with five gold medals and three silver in comparison with Spain's one silver, but this fact is serving as one of Spain's greatest motivators.

"Norway is always a very hard team. But I think we have a chance in this tournament to change history. Norway always win and now is our chance," said left wing Elisabeth Pinedo.

This sentiment is echoed throughout the team, with coach Jorge Duenas agreeing the match and what is at stake are significant not only for the team but for handball in Spain.

"Sunday will be a great day for Spanish handball. Handball has so many problems in Spain, so we can promote our sport in a great way," said Duenas, who has led the team to some of their greatest successes since becoming national coach in 2007.

Spain have always come into big matches as the underdogs, with how far they progress in tournaments often described as a surprise.

At the World Championship 2011 they won the bronze medal, and at the 2012 Olympics in London they repeated the success with third place.

They have played the final of the EHF EURO only once, in 2008, and as fate would have it, it was Norway they faced in this match.

Norway came out on top in that game, beating the Spanish side 34:21 after a draw between the sides in the preliminary round.

But as they have now deservedly made it to the final again, fulfilling even their wildest dreams, perhaps it is time to stop underestimating the 'Guerreras'.

"In the beginning, we really didn't expect this. In the last two years it has been a bit difficult for us because we made some important changes in the team since the London Olympics and now we are again starting to grow up.

"Now I feel really good. I want to play this final and we are so happy to be here - this is the most important thing for us," said back court player Nerea Pena.

The Guerreras know it will not be easy to counter the strong Norwegian side, who have confidence and history behind them, but they are ready for the fight.

"It's the last match, so all our energy will be there. Tomorrow, no excuses. Everything will be there," said Pena.

The players agree their biggest focus needs to be on controlling their attack, as their defence is strong and they have solid goalkeepers behind them.

Silvia Navarro and Ana Temprano have both been playing spectacular tournaments, with Navarro as number one keeper on a 38 per cent save rate for the EHF EURO.

"The problem against Norway is if we lose the ball then they do very fast counterattacks, so we have to try to not lose the ball.

"They are athletic and physical players. They are very consistent - no ups and downs through the whole championship," said Pinedo.

The gold medal is the number one goal, but Pena says it also important to her for the team to enjoy the match.

"I think we should enjoy the match, because this is big for us to be in the final, in this sport hall, in this city. We can't ask for more.

"Now we have to focus on enjoying the match, try to win and go back with the gold medal," Pena concluded.

written by Courtney Gahan / ts


MR I: Hungary vs. Romania