The silver medallists from the EHF EURO 2018, Russia, are once again a contender for the final weekend in 2020, despite some high-profile injuries. And they are not shy when it comes to their goals.
“We are determined only for medals,” said line player Ksenia Makeeva.
Full throttle required from day one
Russia, bronze medallists at last year’s Women’s IHF World Championship, will open their EHF EURO 2020 campaign with a fiery clash against Spain, the runners-up from that event. Up next on Russia’s schedule will be Czech Republic, then Sweden.
Starting a championship with a battle between medallists at the most recent major international event obviously means that there will be not time to waste – Russia must be set to go from the opening whistle if they hope to reach the main round and take the maximum points with them.
The side have had some troubles during preparation, with no friendly matches able to be played. However, the team are confident this will not affect performance at the EURO and believe they will start strong.
“We, athletes, quickly adapt to new conditions. We will go to Denmark without friendly matches and beat everyone there,” are the confident words of back Vladlena Bobrovnikova as told to the official site of the Russian Handball Federation.
Centre back Daria Dmitrieva said: “I don’t think the absence of friendly games before the European Championship will be a problem for us. We work intensively in training, so I think that we will go well into the first game with the Spanish team.”
Burning question: How will Russia fare with their slew of injuries?
Russia have been hit hard with injuries in the weeks leading up to EURO throw-off.
Most notably missing is Anna Vyakhireva, MVP of the EHF EURO 2018 and the 2016 Olympic Games, and always one of Russia’s top scorers and playmakers.
Captain Anna Sen was also ruled out, as were two rising stars: Elena Mikhaylichenko, top scorer of the EHF Cup 2019/20, and Yaroslava Frolova.
Despite these absences, the team looks formidable. Vyakhireva and Sen have undoubtedly played big roles in Russia’s successes over recent years, but they are generally a team with depth and ability for rotation so even missing four players such as those injured may not be catastrophic.
Experienced players such as Dmitrieva, Bobrovnikova, Makeeva, Ekaterina Ilina and Iulia Managarova will serve as fine leaders, while younger talents such as Valeriia Maslova, Karina Sabirova and Antonina Skorobogatchenko are waiting eagerly to show they are worthy of inclusion on the list of top Russian stars.
“Our team suffered heavy losses. We will play for ourselves and for the girls who stayed at home. We understand that it would be easier with them in the squad, but we continue to work to the maximum, to the result.”
Under the spotlight: Ambros Martin and the beginning of a national team legacy?
For many years, the name Ambros Martin was synonymous with Györ and EHF Champions League titles.
Towards the end of his time with the Hungarian club, Martin started as coach of the Romania national team. Under Martin’s guidance, Romania returned to the EHF EURO semi-finals in 2018 for the first time since 2010, after he led them to fifth at the 2016 edition.
In 2019, Martin took the Russian helm. His assumption of the role was only a few months out from the World Championship 2019, but Russia secured bronze with their new coach and thus it can be judged a seamless transition from Evgeny Trefilov to Martin.
Now the question becomes, what will Martin achieve next? If Russia make it to the semi-finals at the EHF EURO 2020, Martin will be the only coach after Helle Thomsen (2014 with Sweden, 2016 with Netherlands) to reach the penultimate stage of the competition in consecutive editions with different teams.
He has already added a World Championship bronze to his cabinet that holds four Champions League titles. Will Martin’s national team collection continue growing?
What the numbers say: 10 years to climb back to the top
For a decade at the start of the 2000s, Russia were one of the most formidable teams in handball – the undisputed World Championship powerhouses, winning four titles out of five contested on the global stage from 2001 to 2009, and reaching the EHF EURO semi-finals five straight times from 2000 to 2008. Aside from their silver medal in 2018, all of Russia’s EURO medals were won during that period – another silver, and two bronze.
Following their EURO bronze in 2008 and their last World Championship title in 2009, Russia fell in the rankings – though not too far, usually finishing between fifth and seventh at these pinnacle events. One significant blemish in that time was the shocking 14th place at the EHF EURO 2014.
But then, in 2016, Russia claimed the Olympic title, returning to the top of the world in the best possible way.
From that point, Russia have once again been a danger to all titles, always being named among the favourites. It took a couple more years to get the EURO and World Championship motors running again, but now it seems Russia are at a consistently high level – and all associated with the team firmly name the medal round as their goal for the EURO 2020.
With the return to the EURO semi-finals coming in 2018 and the next World Championship semi and medal achieved in 2019 – both 10 years after their last appearances in that stage in the respective competition – it was a lengthy wait and period of transition for Russia, but perhaps they are just at the start of another great stay at the top.