Pena: “We will put all our heart” in quarter-final race

30 Jul. 2021

Pena: “We will put all our heart” in quarter-final race

It has been a rollercoaster journey for Spain on the path to their third straight Olympic Games, with the last two major international competitions seeing them claim a miraculous silver medal at the 2019 IHF Women’s World Championship before falling down the rankings to ninth at the 2020 European championship. 

The varied results, with the EHF EURO result in December 2020 of particular note given the event was just eight months ago, meant that Spain were one of the question marks regarding strength at the Olympic Games. A decisive opening loss to Sweden made that question mark bigger, but Spain appear to have found their rhythm as they have now clinched two consecutive wins in Tokyo. Those victories have come against France, who were finalists at the EURO in December, and Brazil. 

“When you start a tournament like this one, the Olympics, that you have been waiting for so much and you lose the first match…I have to say that Sweden was better than us,” said Spain back Nerea Pena following the win over Brazil, adding that spirit was what won the game against the South American team. 

“We put all our spirit inside. We were really focused on these two points. We knew it would be key points for what is coming and we are really happy. We are excited about this match. Now it’s still one [o’clock] in the morning [in Spain] and we have all day to celebrate!” Pena joked. 

The wins were therefore not important for Spain only due to the points, but the confidence they instilled and the passion they ignited.


“We knew that it was really important against France to put the best of us, at least to try to put up our spirit,” said Pena. “We have five matches – five really difficult matches – and we knew that some of them we would lose, some we would win. But of course to win two in a row is always positive for the spirit, for us, for our atmosphere.” 

It is that spirit that took Spain all the way to the World Championship final at the end of 2019 – the country’s first ever trophy match participation in the global women’s event. Prior to that, Spain had contested the EURO final twice, in 2008 and 2014; won bronze medals at the 2011 World Championship and the 2012 Olympic Games; and ranked fourth at the 2009 World Championship as their highlight achievements. 

The ‘Guerreras’ – ‘warriors’ in Spanish – had placed 11th at the 2017 World Championship and 12th at the EHF EURO 2018, so they did not enter the 2019 World Championship in Japan among the favourites but played a solid campaign and reached the semi-finals for the third time in history. 

There, they were pitted against powerhouse Norway, and certainly appeared the underdogs if any favourite tag could be applied in the knock-out game. However, Spain delivered a highly memorable defensive performance that left the record European champions stunned and took the Guerreras to the historic final. Spain ended up losing the trophy to the Netherlands by one goal. 

Next at Tokyo 2020, Spain will meet Hungary – the country Pena called home from 2012 to 2020, during which time she played for the clubs FTC and Siófok. For the upcoming season, she has joined defending Champions League title holders Vipers Kristiansand. The game against Hungary will be an important one for Spain in a group that is quite complicated regarding the quarter-final race. It will naturally also be special for Pena given her personal history there.

“It’s always really special for me to play against them. For the good and the bad things, we know so much each other. I hope it will be a great match again,” said Pena. “It will be a really tough match like it was today, but we know what means these two points – probably they mean that we are in the quarter-final. So we will go like today. We will put all our heart inside, all our strength, and try to have these two points because they are the key for us.” 

Classic clash between Norway and Netherlands

In round 3, Norway and the Netherlands booked the first places in the Tokyo 2020 quarter-finals – and now they will play each other in a top-of-the-table clash to end the day. The two classic rivals have met in many big matches: the finals of the 2015 World Championship and EHF EURO 2016, and the 2017 World Championship semi-final – and Saturday’s Group A match is sure to deliver a great contest. 

Also in Group A, Angola, Japan, Montenegro and Republic of Korea are all aiming for critical points, with Angola yet to clinch any, while Japan, Montenegro and Korea have each taken one win. Angola will meet Japan in round 4 and Montenegro will play Korea. 

In Group B, the defending Olympic champions ROC are aiming to add another win after their first in the previous round. They will meet France, who also count one win and a draw and therefore sit on three points alongside ROC. 

Yet another team in the group on three points, Brazil, will take on table leaders Sweden. Finally, Hungary target their first points in the competition as they play Spain, who enter the day second on the table with four points. 

Full schedule Saturday 31 July 
All times local

9:00 Angola vs Japan – Group A
11:00 Montenegro vs Republic of Korea – Group A
14:15 ROC vs France – Group B
16:15 Brazil vs Sweden – Group B
19:30 Hungary vs Spain – Group B
21:30 Norway vs Netherlands – Group A