Romania's women's team is one of the favourites for the European Handball Championships underway in France
Whereas tennis player Simona Halep is Romania's unrivaled star in individual sports, when it comes to team sports the only field in which Romanians have high expectations is women's handball. And 2018 might just be its best year. The girls have had a smooth path in the European Championships in France so far, and have advanced into the main group stage with the best possible score, 4 points.
Romania walked past the Czech Republic, a team to which they had conceded defeat in the previous world championship, beat Germany without problems and outclassed Norway, the defending European champions, several times world, European and Olympic champions and unanimously viewed as the strongest team of the decade in women's handball.
The enthusiasm triggered by this victory, the first against Norway in a final tournament in 18 years, had to do not so much with the score, 31-23, but rather with the manner in which the Romanian players had the match under control. It was a Norwegian-style victory, with a defense impossible to break through and with efficient and imaginative attacks. Goalie Yuliya Dumanska, a naturalized Ukrainian handballer, was acknowledged as the best player of the game, with an unbelievable 44% saves rate.
The team leader and world-class star Cristina Neagu also had an excellent performance. She is already the best scorer of all times at a European championship. But all team members played remarkably and deserve mentioning: Melinda Geiger, Eliza Buceschi, Crina Pintea, Laura Chiper, Denisa Dedu, Aneta Udristioiu, Ana-Maria Dragut, Gabriela Perianu, Madalina Zamfirescu, Cristina Laslo, Raluca Bacaoanu, Valentina Adrean Elisei, Cristina Florica.
A great part of the merit also belongs to the one that put together such a strong team, namely the Spanish coach Ambros Martin. A winner of several Champions' League trophies, he now hopes to win a title with a national team as well. "We must take it step by step, one game at a time, we know very well what our goal is. We want to go to Tokyo, and if we win this European Championship, this goal will be achieved," Martin said.
The team that wins the continental championship secures its qualification into the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Romania goes into the main group stage with the highest possible number of points, and has good chances to get to one of the top 2 positions and move forward into the semis. The next match is against Netherlands, a strong team that has also won 4 points in the previous stage of the competition. As Ambros Martin explained, "it will be hard, the Dutch have a similar style to the Norwegians, we need an excellent performance again. This will not be easy, because the girls have already made such an effort, but I hope their minds and motivation will be stronger than their tiredness."
The other opponents in the main groups are Spain and Hungary. Romania has only won one European medal so far, a bronze in the 2010 season.