Spain 2021 – Group E roundup
By Chris O’Reilly
It’s approaching 17:00 as I head out for a stroll, an hour before Germany take on Slovakia, hoping to soak up some Spanish afternoon sun and pre-match atmosphere.
The sun obliges but I am largely alone as the seemingly sleepy town of Llíria is left unattended. I was expecting more from a place declared a UNESCO Creative City of music but I’m clearly too eager and early, the folks here will be out later on this Saturday evening.
The same could be said for the group playing here tonight, Group E of the Women’s World Championship. The only all-European group promised a bit more competition and jeopardy than the vast majority of others in the preliminary round but it too is waiting until the end of the day to offer a spark.
There is a clear divide in the group as Germany and Hungary claimed two comfortable victories over Czech Republic and Slovakia, meaning we may finally have some drama on Monday evening’s final round of games.
With Saturday’s results almost a forgone conclusion before they took place, tonight was an opportunity to see where the four teams stand before the group final and the battle for survival.
Second half dominance
In a high-paced encounter, Slovakia managed to go toe-to-toe with Germany for most of the first half, before a slack end to the period saw them lose touch. Germany piled on the pressure with high-tempo attack and solid defence to hammer home a 36:22 win in the end.
Hungary went through a similar experience against the Czechs, only taking a 17:15 lead with them into the break, despite looking the stronger side. The third quarter was crucial for them as they began to create counter-attacking opportunities, leading to a six-goal lead. Hungary had the points secured well before the final buzzer, claiming a 32:29 victory.
Quarter-final race begins
An honest assessment of this quarter of the championship suggests that there will be a three-way contest for two quarter-final places between Germany, Hungary and Denmark. This means Monday night’s group final is crucial.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, Germany go into this one as the favourites and the onus is on them to deliver a performance worthy of the points.
One key are is the German defence, which fluctuates from a rock-solid imposing presence to a fragile structure which can be broken by a bit of movement in attack. Overall, however, it looks great when all goes to plan and coach Henk Groener was largely satisfied.
“We mostly played well in defence but in the first half they scored some goals with a shot at the end of passive play, which shouldn’t happen, but I’m very happy with how the team played today.
Just seven of Hungary’s Tokyo Olympics squad are in the current team, that and the new coaching setup means that the team is still finding its way, displaying an effective yet rudimentary style of play at the moment. Bölk and Stolle should know exactly what to expect from their club teammates, the question remains whether they can do anything about it.
If they can, Groener expects his players to take full advantage on the break: “We have to make playing at a high tempo a habit, every time we have a chance and play good defence we must seek the opportunity to score easy goals.
“I think we will have to work on our positional attack. We scored a lot on fast breaks and Hungary will not allow us to score those easy goals.”
Pace vs direct attack suggests a high-scoring affair and the defining factor may well be who has the legs and lungs to deliver for 60 minutes.
This is the kind of clash I really enjoy. Two neighbours, competing for survival at a championship. Despite their heavy loss to Germany, Slovakia have acquitted themselves well in their first major championship since 2014, while Czech Republic will feel they are still finding their feet but find themselves well short of the form that took them to the quarter-finals in 2017.
Slovakia play with a lot of positivity, almost to a fault, which was their downfall at times against Germany. If they can replicate the pacey play against the Czechs and take a few more chances, they could cause them some serious problems.
Czech Republic have the bigger names and bigger stature with the likes of goalkeeper Petra Kudláčková and Vipers Kristiansand duo Jana Knedlíková and Markéta Jeřábková offering heaps of experience and the composure to win big games. This points towards a Czech victory but they will have to be careful to control the pace of the match and not allow Slovakia to get on a run.
Expect this one to be a tense contest, in which the winner goes through to the main round and the loser stays in Llíria for the Presidents Cup – a draw is enough for the Czechs to progress.