France, the conqueror of a mighty army of medal contenders last winter, in Brazil, must question its short-handed back court line. Alexandra Lacrabère, troubled by injuries during the spring season, could not cope with the meanders of a strong and driven defence. And that is exactly what this Montenegrin defence was: feeding from within, from both wins and defeats, an outburst of pride. Most importantly, it is a thoroughly worked sector of their game, mastered by coach Dragan Aǆić.
Olivier Krumbholz discussed what made the difference between the two teams on the last day: aside from the obvious lack of attacking ideas, “in Montenegro one can behave maturely at 22, whilst in France, this does not happen at 30” (source). Looking at his roster, we deduce he’s referring to taking responsibility, thus opposing Milena Knežević to someone like Sophie Herbrecht or Amélie Goudjo. What he did not say or did not want to consider, is that the match was a revelation for Knežević herself and that it will become a reference in regard to her future ratings.
This slight motivation drop on the French side, previously nourished by a massive correction in Skopje, has to be fixed in a few months’ time. The factors that interfered with them medaling in Beijing were problems within the group and in preparation. This time, Krumbholz repents and starts, not without fear, from another standpoint. Some facts keep him going: his team is based on a young and powerful generation, who has hardly exhausted its resources. His team has two goalkeepers who have made their way to success in pair (counter-examples: Győr, Croatia, Germany). His team has been confronted with failure post-Brazil. So instead of bearing the pressure of one wintery result, they can go on with testing and fixing playing systems, which is what they do best.
This last point is supported by the Montenegrins’ recent experience: disastrous WCh followed by a blossoming spring.
The bottom runners, Romania and Japan, have confirmed their current status. The former has delayed its generation change to the point where a counter-performance occurred twice in one season (WC and OQT), reducing them to outsiders of top handball. Meanwhile, the latter has been challenging and pushing the opponent into unknown territory, becoming an inspiration for the European powerhouses, both game and mentality -wise.
Gabriela Perianu and Eliza Buceschi, two of the most promising Romanian youth players, have started their senior team career with two failures: WCh and OQT. With them and with some other well hidden names, Romania will have to rebound in two to three years’ time in order to take back Brazil.
Despite its surprising mental block against France, Japan was a crowd-pleaser. While the commentator was referring to the Romanian side as “the beautiful team of Romania”, the audience was cheering loudly for Japan’s comeback in their last Lyonese game. So maybe Romania is beautiful, but only in retrospective.
Last but not least, I would underline Bojana Popović’s role in the course of this week-end’s events. She was player, colleague, coach, mother; she gave them water when they were thirsty. Highlight of the last day: the Popović – Krumbholz clash from the distance. At a legitimate two minute suspension for France, the coach throws his arms into the air in disagreement. A regal Popović turns to him and settles the account with an icy look and an imposing gesture. She had not stepped on French land as a guest, but as a conqueror.
“I hope that happiness will remain here, with this club” she said after winning the EHF Champions League (source). Her kingdom is rising. Her legacy? The continuous quest for excellence.
MNE – JPN 30:24 (14:13)
FRA – ROU 24:19 (12:9)
ROU – MNE 23:34 (13:17)
JPN – FRA 17:30 (7 :13)
ROU – JPN 28 :26 (18 :10)
FRA – MNE 20 :22 (9 :9)