Group D: Netherlands open against Puerto Rico, Uzbekistan take on Sweden

03 Dec. 2021

Group D: Netherlands open against Puerto Rico, Uzbekistan take on Sweden

Both European sides in group D are seen as favourites in their opening matches, as reigning champions Netherlands will face Puerto Rico and Sweden will meet Uzbekistan in Torrevieja. 

Netherlands vs Puerto Rico 18:00 CET

Two years ago, the Dutch team achieved the biggest success in their history, winning the Women’s World Championship in Kumamoto, Japan, and now they open the mission ‘title defence’ with the match against Puerto Rico. 

Most of the players of the title-winning squad in 2019 are still in the team, including the MVP of that championship, Estavana Polman, and top scorer Lois Abbingh.

Polman’s health was a major concern for the Netherlands, as she suffered two serious injuries in two years, but the Dutch sighed with relief as the 29-year-old left back managed to recover before the World Championship. 

Last week, she played for the national team at the Intersport Cup in Bergen, where Netherlands beat Russia and South Korea but suffered a painful 21:36 defeat against Norway.

“We want to defend our title, and it is possible with this team, as the players have a good chemistry. However, we are also aware that reaching the final will depend on a lot of factors,” said the Netherlands’ interim coach Monique Tijsterman, who replaced Enmmanuel Mayonnade after the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. 

While the Dutch team are heading into their 13th World Championship, their rivals will be participating in the final stage just for the second time. Six years ago in Denmark, Puerto Rico lost six of their seven matches, beating only Kazakhstan. 

Now, the winners of the 2021 Women's North America and the Caribbean Championship hope to do a better job and reach the main round, but it will be certainly hard for them to snatch any points from the Netherlands. 

Sweden vs Uzbekistan 20:30 CET

Just like the Netherlands, fellow European side Sweden are strong favourites in their opening match at Spain 2021. And similar to Puerto Rico, their rivals Uzbekistan participate in the World Championship for the second time only.

Sweden created a surprise at Tokyo 2020, where they finished fourth, and now the team coached by Tomas Axner hope to build on that successful performance. With experienced players like Linn Blohm, Nathalie Hagman and Jamina Roberts in the squad, the Nordic side have a chance to impress once again, even though they will meet world champions Netherlands and possibly also European champions Norway on the way to the quarter-final.

But before that, Sweden will face two teams of another calibre, Uzbekistan and Puerto Rico, in matches which the European team are expected to win.

“Our focus will be to keep the players fresh and alert and assess how much energy we should put into these matches, considering what the draw looks like,” Axner said. 

Sweden’s first opponents are somewhat of a dark horse. All Uzbekistan players represent domestic clubs, and most of them had not even been born when the Asian team participated in their previous World Championship 24 years ago. 

At Germany 1997, they finished 21st, and now, the new generation of Uzbek players sees the World Championship as an opportunity to learn – and thus playing against high-quality rivals like Sweden should be a valuable experience.