France lead the way into EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers
With four teams already confirmed for the final tournament in November 2022 – hosts North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Montenegro, as well as defending champions Norway – 24 teams will fight for the 12 remaining berths.
A panel of EHF journalists across Europe have put the leading women’s national teams in the qualifiers under the microscope, judging the strength of the rosters and the changes made in recent months.
Women’s EHF EURO 2022 Qualifiers power ranking:
After finishing 12th at the EHF EURO 2020, their worst placement in the tournament, Romania are slowly entering a new phase and trying to kick-start their future. Following previous injuries, left back Cristina Neagu, the team’s captain and star player, is taking a break from the national team in 2021, which means that coach Adrian Vasile will have a huge challenge on his hands.
Romania failed to qualify for the EHF EURO only once, in 2006, but the start of their campaign with games against the Faroe Islands and Austria might pose them with a difficult task, which could decide about their fate in this qualifiers campaign.
After winning silver at the World Championship 2019, Spain made a step back and finished ninth at the EHF EURO 2020 and at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A few months before their home World Championship 2021, coach Carlos Viver has been replaced with Jose Ignacio Prades.
How Spain will respond to this change will be seen when ‘Las Guerreras’ meet Slovakia and Portugal in their opening two qualifiers. Two wins would galvanise the team and help Prades enjoy a good start. Missing right wings Carmen Martin and Marta Lopez is a blow but Spain have the options to bounce back.
With a team built on the backbone of powerhouses Rostov-Don and CSKA, Russia are always a team to watch. However, the absence of backs Daria Dmitrieva and Anna Vyakhireva will have a profound impact on the Russian team, irrespective of the plethora of players ready to take their place. In fact, only four of the players which took the court at the Olympics last summer are still in the roster.
Moreover, the Russian side will have a new coach since former standout line player Lyudmila Bodniyeva recently took over.
Games against Switzerland and Lithuania should help ease the Russian side’s transition into the future, but they should still be regarded as serious underdogs to go all the way at EHF EURO 2022.
Another team that had several changes after this year’s Olympics. The coaching pair of Gabor Elek and Gabor Danyi was let go at the end of the competition, with Vladimir Golovin being ushered in. Golovin, a former decorated coach for the Hungarian junior teams, is in need of a good start with wins against Slovakia and Portugal in his first two matches in charge this week.
The team does not feature many changes, with experienced players still in the squad, but will Golovin’s free-flowing style suit the senior team?
An inexperienced, but very attacking German side made good strides in the past years, finishing seventh at the EHF EURO 2020, despite losing three games in the tournament. Dutch coach Henk Groener’s side will be heavily favourited against Greece and Belarus in their first two games.
They boast an excellent back line, including the current leading scorer of the DELO EHF Champions League, Dortmund’s centre back Alina Grijseels, who scored 29 goals in the first three games of the competition.
Will they be a one-hit wonder? This is the main question Croatia will have to answer and it is difficult to ascertain where they are now. Coach Nenad Sostaric’s side has not played an official game since winning the bronze medal at the EHF EURO 2020 against Denmark.
Sostaric, one of the brightest minds in women’s handball, is still the coach, with crucial players like left back Larissa Kalaus, goalkeeper Tea Pijevic, left back Camila Micijevic or line player Ana Debelic are in the squad.
But can that fighting spirit be replicated? This is what helped Croatia grow and thrive as underdogs and it will be needed against Ukraine and the Czech Republic.
Facing Austria, a team that qualified for the World Championship in December, is not the easiest start for Denmark, but the Scandinavian side has plenty of experience in their roster. They looked solid in December on home court at the EHF EURO 2020 and will look to build on the fourth place they secured in the tournament.
There are not many changes from that team, with Jesper Jensen trying to build a side that would be back challenging for the top.
The golden generation of the Dutch women’s handball brought five medals in five major tournaments between 2015 and 2019 but finished sixth at the EHF EURO 2020 and fifth at Tokyo Olympics. This prompted a coaching change, with Emmanuel Mayonnade being replaced with Monique Tijsterman, who will serve on an interim basis in the next months.
Both their star left backs will not play: Lois Abbingh is still nursing a muscle injury while Estavana Polman will join the squad after recovering from knee surgery but is not yet ready to play. Still, the team boast a lot of experienced players like left back Kelly Dulfer, goalkeeper Tess Wester, right wing Angela Malestein, or line player Danick Snelder.
Having two games against Belarus and Greece will surely help the Dutch side settle in quickly, which could benefit them on the long term.
Finishing 11th at the EHF EURO 2020 was surely not what Sweden had in mind, especially with the retirement from influential centre back Isabelle Gulldén in mind. Eight months later, Sweden finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, their best result in the competition, with a rekindled team spirit and some great attacking performances.
Sure, their loss in the bronze medal game, 36:19, against Norway, was disarming, but Sweden look better than that on paper. They should be heavily favourited in their group, where they will be facing Iceland and Turkey in October, eyeing their 11th consecutive berth for the EHF EURO. They still have their core intact since August, which should play in their advantage.
A silver medal at the EHF EURO 2020 and the Olympic title in August at Tokyo 2020 make France a shoo-in for the next European Championship. Their group is far from a straightforward procession, as games against the Czech Republic and Ukraine will make France stay fully focused during the next week.
Adding a double-header against Croatia next March is definitely not the easiest path to the EHF EURO 2022 for them.
Also, the current squad faces some changes compared to the golden team from the Olympics. Experienced goalkeeper Amandine Leynaud has ended her national team duties, the MVP of the EHF EURO 2020 Estelle Nze Minko, captain Pauline Coatanea, and right back Laura Flippers are all injured.
But the French side, still led by the outstanding coach in Olivier Krumbholz, will surely be a tough nut to crack and headline the power rankings due to their unmatched experience.