In a tense final, France was able to win the 2018 European Women’s Handball. By also winning, the nation has also qualified to the 2020 Olympics. The European Women’s Handball Championship was held in five cities across France from November 29th to December 16th 2018.
The format of the 16-team tournament included two group stages. The preliminary round had four groups of four teams with the top three advancing to the main round of two groups of six teams with results among advancing teams also progressing. The top two teams advance to the semi-finals.
Group A saw a three-way tie for first as Denmark, Serbia and Sweden all advanced to the next round leaving winless Poland behind. Tie-breaking rules meant Serbia, Sweden and Denmark finished first, second and third respectively.
Group B had France and Russia tied for first, but a 26-23 Russian victory over the hosts meant that they won the group. The third team to advance was Montenegro whom despite being tied for points against Slovenia had a direct 36-32 victory over them.
Narrow victories over Hungary and Spain and a third win over Croatia meant that Netherlands was one of two teams to go undefeated in this round as they topped Group C. Hungary’s 32-26 victory over Spain was enough for the nation to clinch second while Spain also advanced as the third placed team.
The biggest shock of the round came in Group D as two-time defending champions Norway lost two out of their three matches. Their win against the Czech Republic was enough for them to finish third. The winner of the group was Romania whom went undefeated, including a 29-24 victory over second placed Germany.
In the main round, in Group I, it was Russia whom topped the group, clinching it with 29-25 and 32-21 victories over Serbia and Denmark respectively. They lost their final game 39-30 against Sweden, but it was not enough for them to catch France whom they tied earlier 21-21 for second place as they won their final match against 38-28 against Serbia.
Group II was topped by the Netherlands where their only blemish was a 29-16 loss to Norway. Norway was able to rebound after their poor performance in the previous round, winning all three of their matches and placing them in a three-way tie for second place along with Hungary and Romania. Unfortunately for Norway, Romania won the goal differential battle with a score of +6 vs. Norway’s +5. This will be Norway’s first time in failing to win a medal since 2000.
The semi-final match between Russia and Romania saw the two nations keeping close with Russia leading 16-15 at half-time. Into the second half Russia was leading 22-19 where they would go on to score five unanswered goals. Russia would go on to win the match 28-22. Similarly, the Netherlands and France game was close with France leading 12-11 at half time, with the match becoming tied 14-14 early in the second half. France would go on an 11-3 run to ultimately win the match 27-21.
The final was a repeat of the very first match of this tournament. The match was close with neither team being able to get more than a three-goal lead over the other. In the second half a resilient France was always able to keep some distance over Russia, eventually winning the game and championship 24-21.
Despite being the defending World Champions, this is France’s first European title. As a reminder, while the World Championship is set for a later date it holds a higher priority in the qualification process. Should France defend their title then Russia will qualify to the Olympics as the European representative. Other European nations will have additional chances at qualifying through both the 2019 World Championships and the Olympic Qualification Tournaments to be held in 2020.