Hard clashes highlight another fiery preliminary round day

03 Dec. 2023

Hard clashes highlight another fiery preliminary round day

More main round spots are up for grabs in four groups in the preliminary round at the 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship, as co-hosts Sweden and Denmark aim to progress to the next phase by earning their second win in as many matches.

The final day of Preliminary Group C action in Stavanger sees two places for the main round available with Korea and Austria likely to join hosts Norway in the next phase in Trondheim.

One of the most balanced clashes looks to be played in Herning, as Romania face Serbia in Group E, with a win seeing Romania virtually through to the next phase.

Group A
15:30 CET Croatia vs People's Republic of China 

For Croatia, the opening match of the tournament proved to be much harder than expected. The European team showed that they had been called "The Queens of Shock" for a reason, as Ivica Obrvan's team were on a verge of a shocking defeat.

However, a late surge helped them to draw level and snatch one point, which gave Croatia the benefit of the doubt, after taking one point against Senegal, 22:22.

 "We expected a confident win, but I knew it wouldn't be easy. It was clear from the very beginning that the girls were under some pressure. But in the end, we showed a good reaction, and we will try to do better in future," Obrvan said.

On Sunday, a win against People's Republic of China will see Croatia through to the main round, and Croatia's coach is looking forward to it: "We must do everything we can to beat China, which will bring us back to life. They run a lot, and we have a team which is not perfect in this segment. The emphasis will be on quick transition to prevent their counterattacks, and I hope we'll succeed."

China opened the 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship with a 24:36 loss against co-hosts Sweden, but the Asians improved as the match progressed and even managed to win the second half, which gives them some confidence ahead of the match against Croatia.

Croatia and China have only faced off once at this level, as the Balkan side won 35:29 at Russia 2005.

18:00 CET Senegal vs Sweden

Senegal, which led for most of the match against Croatia, were upset by not taking their first-ever win against a European team at this level. Yet the African side, which probably won the hearts of many neutral observers with their brave and enthusiastic performance, were happy with their game and character.

"This match is one of the greatest performances in the history of the Senegalese handball," coach Yacine Mesaoudi said. "We had a great match with a very small squad, in addition to Fanta Keita's red card."
Maybe it was lack of depth in the roster that prevented the Africans from keeping the winning score until the final whistle. But in any case, they earned a point and now are ready to fight against Sweden, even if the task will be enormous.

"Sweden is a team with a big experience who will finish in the top four. The idea is to get the experience and push them to their limits," Mesaoudi said.

The co-hosts opened the competition in style, as a 12-goal victory against China put them on top of Group A. Head coach Tomas Axner gave some time on the court to all his players, including the debutants at the IHF Women’s World Championship, such as Sofia Hvenfelt who scored five goals and was elected hummel Player of the Match.

Despite Senegal's sensational performance on Friday, Sweden will be the favourites the upcoming match, and with a win, they will secure a spot in the main round. 

18:00 CET Greenland vs Austria

After 22 years, Greenland are back in IHF Women’s World Championship action and if they cause a sensational upset by beating Austria it could lead to a three-way tie for the two main round qualification spots between Austria, Greenland as well as the Republic of Korea, should they lose to Norway in the late match.

While the first scenario of Greenland winning is extremely unlikely, if they did, the second scenario in a split group would see the maths against Greenland stacked against them for any possible progression.

The common theme amongst the Greenland squad at this world championship has been one of a goal achieved already just by qualifying and they have been enjoying themselves in Stavanger despite losing both their games so far, 43:11 against Norway and 27:16 against Korea.

Every single goal and save Greenland make is wildly celebrated by a few hundred fans who have made the more than 3,000km journey from capital city Nuuk to Norway.

“Greenland will try everything,” said Austria coach Herbert Müller to oehb.at ahead of the clash which Austria only need to draw to progress.

“They play with their hearts out. Constantly seven against six with an empty goal, always trying something like man marking. That means we have to be prepared for what lies ahead because we can't let ourselves be exposed.”

 The two teams have actually met before in an IHF Women’s World Championship, when the Europeans defeated the North American and the Caribbean side 34:20 (17:6) in Brixen, Italy.

20:3 CET Norway vs Republic of Korea

In their two games so far on home soil, Norway have won 43:11 (vs Greenland) and 45:28 (vs Austria).

Both were without the influential Nora Mork. For the first, she was rested and sat in the spectator seats with goalkeeper Katrine Lunde, and for the second, she suited up, was on court for the warm-up, but remained on the bench.

Such is the quality the Norwegians have is that they do not miss Mork, yet, which is good considering she is currently nursing a calf injury which she described herself as “nothing serious”.

While Mork hopes to play in this clash, Korea will hope she does not as they attempt to get at least a point off of their European opponents in what has been a disappointing championship so far for them and their Swedish coach, Henrik Signell.

A one-goal opening day loss against Austria for Korea was followed by an uninspiring win against Greenland, with the Gyor back court player Ryu Eun Hee given her marching orders in both.

Should Austria defeat Greenland as expected in the early match, if Korea do not get a positive result against Norway then they will not carry any points into the main round and any further progression will be almost impossible

Group E
18:00 CET Romania vs Serbia

After dominating the first match against Chile, Romania can secure the main round berth with another win against Serbia. However, captain Cristina Neagu is still a serious doubt, with an injury which sidelined her for the last three weeks, as the left back started non-contact training on Saturday in Herning.

In a group with three European sides, wins are hard to get and Florentin Pera's players will have to enter the fray with Serbia fully focused, especially as Serbia provided a big scare for co-hosts Denmark in their 21:25 loss, with Denmark first taking the lead in the 54th minute. 

However, Serbia might have an advantage that four of their players feature in Romanian clubs, knowing full well the level of the opponent. But Uros Bregar’s side needs to be at a top level, especially after expending plenty of energy in the loss against Denmark.

“They have a good team, but we also have our chance, which should be sought in solid defence and to stick to our attacking tactics. The Romanian team are known for playing even harder and "dirtier" than Denmark, so this will be another match with a tough fight on the court,” said Serbian right back Andjela Janjusevic for rss.org.rs.

Romania warmed up every player against Chile with Eliza Buceschi, Alexandra Dindiligan, Lorena-Gabriela Ostase and Sonia-Mariana Seraficeanu leading the way in the attack, scoring five goals each., as plenty of firepower will be needed were Neagu to be rested once again.

When it comes to the World Championship duels, this will be the first time these two sides meet. However, overall Romania hold five victories while Serbia won four times in the mutual matches.

20:30 CET Chile vs Denmark

Denmark survived a scare against Serbia, but opened their account with a win at the 26th IHF Women's World Championship in front of a sold-out Jyske Bank Boxen Arena, with 12,365 fans being present for the opener in Herning. 

Jesper Jensen's side are still to show their best hand, but with the core of the team that has been conquering courts across Europe, it is fair to say they are strong favourites against Chile.

The 2023 Central American Women's Handball Championship runner-up did not have an easy start to their second-ever World Championship. Against Romania, they lost on a 25-goal margin after they managed to score only six goals in the first half.

Chile’s right back Valeska Andrea Lovera Salas and left back Francisca Andrea Parra are the main weapons in attack, but their main problem are turnovers coming from the lack of experience on the world stage, turning the ball over 34 times in the match against Romanua.

Therefore, Denmark are favoured to secure their main round berth without breaking a sweat in their first-ever clash against Chile, and consequently in their first-ever win against the South American team, with the clash against Romania next on the menu for the co-hosts on Tuesday evening.

Group G
15:30 CET Ukraine vs Kazakhstan

The last day of Group G in Nord Arena in Frederiskhavn will be opened with a duel that will determine the last team to the main round, as both Ukraine and Kazakhstan lost against Spain and Brazil.

Progressing to the main round would be a major accomplishment for Ukraine, which made their comeback to the world handball flagship competition after a 14-year hiatus. The last time they made it from the main round was at the 2005 IHF Women's World Championship, when they finished second in the group behind Romania and ultimately secured tbe 10th place. 

Now, they will rely once again on centre back Tamara Smbatian, who is leading the Ukrainian attack with 11 goals scored, leading a strong back line, which is the European side’s main weapon in attack.

"For this team, this is the first World Championship and we never had such emotions. This is something fantastic. Therefore, we should enjoy every second we spend here and show we can fight. That we are ready to do everything for the team. To prove that we can win for our country. The same goes for the game against Kazakhstan,” said left back Tetiana Poliak.

Kazakhstan will try to stop Ukraine and secure their second straight main round berth. The Asian side finished 24th at Spain 2021 and their aim is to improve that finish here, at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023. However, they have scored only 32 goals in two games so far, with only Cameroon and Greenland scoring less, while their defence conceded the largest number of goals so far, 80.

18:00 CET Brazil vs Spain

Brazil and Spain have secured their main round spots with their first two wins and now are facing off with the top position in the group at stake, as well as the advantage of taking four points into the next phase. Brazil have never won against Spain at the World Championship so far, but in their three previous encounters, they were close each time, losing 25:27, 26:27 and 24:27.

So far, Brazil have surprised with one of the most efficient attacks in the competition, scoring 81 goals in two matches, while in defence they were led by Barbara Arenhart, who has saved 22 shots, the largest number so far in the competition, for an outstanding 55% saving efficiency.

Ambros Martin’s Spain know the win against Brazil would bring the desired quarter-finals even closer, but they are aware they need to stop Brazil from running and impose their rhythm. “Las Guerreras” made the top 4 in each of the last two editions of the world handball flagship competition and another win here, their third in a row, would see them edge closer to the knockout phase at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023.

“We face a rival who has very good players individually and who have been playing at the highest level for many years with the national team and with their clubs. It is going to be a game to work on and win as a team,” said ahead of the match Spanish head coach Ambros Martín.

WHERE TO WATCH - For those fans who cannot come and experience the fast-paced action of one of the most popular sports in the world live, there are numerous opportunities to watch and listen to the competition through a variety of television, radio and streaming outlets across the globe – thanks to our partner SPORTFIVE, the official media distribution agency of the IHF.