Will Russia make it – finally?
December 2, 2016
Russia have been World champions four times, and this summer, they have also won an Olympic gold medal, but they have never managed to become European champions – so far.
Now, they make another run for the only title that has eluded them and their chances are good – to say the least.
By Peter Bruun
Russia´s list of international achievements in women´s handball is impressive. They have been World champions no less than four times – in 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2009. And since this summer, they have an Olympic gold medal in their collection as well.
However, there is still one title that’s missing – the European championship.
One silver medal and two bronze medals are all they have to show, and their bronze medal dates all the way back to Macedonia in 2008. In Sweden, Russia will be trying hard to reach the top of the European podium with the help of controversial coach Evegenij Trefilov.
They have a promising squad to secure a win this time, although the confidence level of some of the key players who play in Rostov-Don may have taken a hit after their team´s terrible Champions League performance in the fall of this year.
Also, their preparations have been hampered by injuries of key players like Ekaterina Ilina, Vladlena Bobrovnikova and and more recently, Anna Vyakhireva. Still, a Russian squad in their strongest lineup will definitely be a top favorite for the title.
In their preliminary group in Helsingborg, they will be up against Norway and Romania, who they met in their preliminary group in Danish Frederikshavn at the 2015 World Championship.
On that occasion, Trefilov´s crew defeated both opponents, and if they can do so again, they are in a very strong position to go all the way.
Norway for sure and Romania to a certain extent will produce qualified challenges to Russia. Still the Russians should have a very good chance to win Group D, as the other remaining squad, Croatia, is not likely to cause them much trouble.
In the main round, Russia’s likely contenders such as Montenegro, Hungary and Denmark, will not represent meaningful obstacles (with the exception of the Danes), en route to a quarter-final.
Anything less than the semi-final will be deeply disappointing for the ruling Olympic champions, and who knows – maybe it will be this time, that Russia will lift the European championship trophy?
Karina Sabirova – (Left-Back)
Watch out for this girl. She had her national team debut as late as in Russia´s test matches ahead of the European championship, but this 18-year-old has already drawn attention with her efficient shot and her particular way of executing the left-back position as if she was an experienced veteran.
People, who have been following the Women´s Champions League this season, will already have noticed the 181 cm tall back from Astrakhanochka. Her 42 goals for the Russian champions in the group matches have secured her a second place in the tournament’s top scorers´ list so far.
Daria Dmitrieva – (Playmaker)
Despite being only 21 years of age, Dmintrieva has already proven to be a real asset to the Russian team. At the Olympic tournament this summer, she scored 28 goas and was elected for the All Star Team.
One explanation for her early success covering a position, that usually requires a certain experience may be the fact that she is good at shutting off to the outside world.
As she told me ahead of the 2014 European championship: “I don´t need the attention from the outside; I simply try to play better than anyone else!”
Anna Vyakhireva – (Right-Back / Right Wing)
The disastrous Champions League performance in the fall with Rostov-Don has not made Vyakhireva a weaker handball player.
Just like Dmitrieva, she is only 21 years old, and just like her she is already a key player in the Russian team.
The fact that she can play right-back as well as the wing obviously makes her even more valuable to her team.
Some might argue, that her modest height of 165 cm is a handicap when playing right-back, but do I need to remind you that Norway´s Nora Mørk is not any taller?