With Toft ready, the hosts aim for glory

FEATURE: One day prior to their start against Slovenia, the Danish goalkeeper got the green light to play, and her team dreams of a medal

Sandra Toft and Kathrine Heindahl at EHF EURO 2018. Photo © Anze Malovrh / kolektiff

They are happy that they can start, their best goalkeeper is finally on board – and they are determined to bring a positive light to the situation they find themselves in. After the Danish Handball Federation did everything to make sure the Women’s EHF EURO 2020 could happen, the Danish team want to pay back and make their fans at home happy.

“It will be a really strange feeling to play in such a huge arena as Jyske Bank BOXEN in Herning and have no fans inside, but we have to cope with this,” said Jesper Jensen, the new Danish national team coach right before the start of their EURO campaign against Slovenia on Friday night.

Denmark know the Slovenians often start well, with previous group phase wins against eventual world champions France in 2017 and the Netherlands in 2019 on their card.

“We have not seen many videos of them, as they like all other teams did not have any official matches since one year,” says right back Mette Tranborg, adding: “We have to focus on us first, then we have to see.”

The players are looking forward to the EHF EURO 2020, although they know that hosting this event is totally different to previous major tournaments, as the home advantage is limited without fans in the arena.

“We used to play in front of thousands of fans, now the arena will almost be empty, but we make the best of it, as we know that all the Danish handball fans this time are crossing their fingers for us at home,” says Tranborg.

The biggest question mark before the start was whether world-class goalkeeper Sandra Toft would be ready to rumble or not after some hip problems.

“Even if I will have to leave the arena on crutches later, I will definitely play,” said the 30-year-old Brest Bretagne player on Thursday at the final media call prior to the start.

Last Saturday, Jensen called in experienced Rikke Poulsen to the Danish team in case Toft could not play right from the start. Denmark left one spot open in their team list for the match against Slovenia in order to assess how Toft was training in the final session – on Friday, her place was confirmed.

The situation is reminiscent of one year ago, when Toft’s start at the World Championship in Japan was in question right until the day before the first match due to a finger injury. Toft did finally play and was the best of the Danes, although they failed to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. That was the reason for Jensen’s appointment in the place of Klavs Bruun Jørgensen.

The Danes have decorated their meeting room in their Herning hotel, and feel quite comfortable there. And they hope to remain part of the event until the final weekend, like 10 years ago, when they finished fourth.

Besides Slovenia, the Danes face Montenegro and France in the tough group A.  

“I have a good feeling that we can make it really far,” says Tranborg. “If we can adjust little things, then we can win a medal.”

If Tranborg is right, it would be the first EHF EURO silverware for the Danes since silver in 2004.

written by Björn Pazen / jh