Tournament 2: Russian-Serbian clash highlights opening day
19 Mar. 2021
Hungary, Russia, Serbia and Kazakhstan will compete in Tournament 2 in Győr for two tickets to Tokyo 2020.
On Friday, the home side Hungary are seen as strong favourites against Kazakhstan, while the game between Russia and Serbia promises a tight battle that may prove crucial for both sides.
Kazakhstan vs Hungary 17:00 CET
In the opening match, the home side Hungary will face Kazakhstan, who are the only non-European team in this group and are generally viewed as underdogs.
The two teams met at the 2019 IHF World Championship in Kumamoto, where Hungary claimed a commanding win, 39:15.
Now the European side, who finished 10th at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, are determined to earn their first Olympic ticket since 2008.
After a positive COVID-19 test last week, Hungary’s coach Gabor Elek was at risk to miss the tournament. However, the 50-year-old has already recovered and will lead the team, whose roster has as many as 11 players from his club FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria.
While Elek was in quarantine, it was his assistant Gabor Danyi who led the training process.
“Obviously we need to win the match against Kazakhstan. But the most important game will be against Serbia,” he said.
Similar to Hungary, Kazakhstan have not played at the Olympics since 2008, their first and only appearance.
Russia vs Serbia 20:00 CET
This match may prove pivotal for both sides, and the winner will take a big step towards Tokyo 2020.
Russia, who are reigning Olympic champions, are obviously determined to book a ticket to Japan, and are seen by many as favourites. However, nothing should be taken for granted, as key players Anna Vyakhireva and Darya Dmitrieva may not be in their best shape after injuries, while Elena Mikhaylichenko and Polina Vedekhina are side-lined.
The tournament in Győr will be the first serious test for Russia’s head coach Alexey Alekseev, who took over after Ambros Martin was let go during the Women’s EHF EURO 2020 in December. Alekseev is expecting a tough opening match on Friday.
“This game will decide a lot, if not everything. Serbia is an experienced and smart team. They have a great playmaker Kristina Liscevic, but it is their line players and wings that play key roles,” he told the Russian website handballfast.com.
Serbia have not featured at the Olympics after Yugoslavia last participated in 1988, and now the team coached by Ljubomir Obradovic hope to write history.
Although playmaker Andrea Lekic is with the team in Győr, she cannot play due to an Achilles tendon injury, and this is a hard blow for the Balkan side. However, Serbia have enough quality and experience in the squad, as well as a lot of fighting spirit.
“It will be very hard against Russia. They are the favourites of the match, but any team can have a bad day. I believe that it will be our best day, and if we fight hard in every moment, I think we can get a good result,” says right wing Katarina Krpez Slezak, who plays at Rostov-Don together with many other players of the Russian team.