Russia back to the top or Netherlands to third major final in four years?

12 Dec. 2019

Russia back to the top or Netherlands to third major final in four years?

The first semi-final at the 24th IHF Women’s World Championship will see Russia meeting the Netherlands, with Russia aiming for their first final in the event since 2009, while the Netherlands hope to return after contesting the title four years ago in Denmark. 

Russia vs Netherlands
17:30 local time, Park Dome Kumamoto

For Russia, Japan 2019 represents the first chance to climb to the top of the podium since the golden ‘Trefilov era’, when their national team collected four world titles within five consecutive editions of the event. While Russia have not made it to the medal round at the Women’s World Championship for a decade, they have certainly not been absent from the top places at international events.

Three years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, Russia claimed their nation’s first ever Olympic title in a women’s team sport. One year ago, in Paris, they reached the final at the European championship for only the second time in their history. There they were defeated by France and thereby secured silver, leaving the EHF EURO title as the only one Russia have yet to take. 

The Netherlands are also hungry for their first World Championship – and major international – title. They are the only team to have reached every semi-final in recent years, ever since their debut in the penultimate stage of a major international championship at Denmark 2015. 

In that time, the Netherlands missed a medal only once, at the 2016 Olympic Games. Aside from that, they collected silver medals at the World Championship in 2015 and the EHF EURO 2016, and bronze at the 2017 World Championship and EHF EURO 2018. Now, they want one of a different colour. 

Will Japan 2019 finally be their time? The Netherlands certainly seem to be in great form. Despite some defeats in their challenging campaign, they also overcame one major hurdle: Norway. The Netherlands have significant recent history against Norway, and had not beaten the Scandinavian side for two decades – but they did it at Japan 2019. 

Goalkeeper Rinka Duijndam says the mindset this time around, which was evident in the match against Norway, might be the key to finally standing on top of a podium. 

“I think when we came to the field against Norway, there was a spirit in the team. Everybody had fire in their eyes,” said Duijndam on the eve of the semi-finals. “I think that spirit was again there against Korea, and maybe that was what was missing against Germany and Denmark. But I think the good thing is that we do it in the games where we have to win, so I hope that we do it again on Friday.”

Russia arrive at the semi-final against the Netherlands as the only side with a perfect record of victories on the path to the medal round. 

“This was something we really wanted from the beginning,” said Russia coach Ambros Martin. “Now there is a chance for us to keep playing the way we are doing also against a tough opponent who, in the last years, has been in the top four teams in Europe and the world. I think it’s going to be an interesting match, a tough match.”

“My team has done a good job. We improved game by game,” added captain Anna Sen. “We won eight games. For my team, it is also important because we have good rhythm.” 

Can Russia carry that rhythm into the semi-final and continue on the path to what would be their fifth world title? Or will the Netherlands take the step towards making history?