The Romanian women national team has qualified earlier to three OG (Montreal, Sidney, Beijing) but never managed to win a medal, the closest placement to the podium was the 4th place in Montreal, 1976.
Since their last participation (Bejing 2008), Romania won two bronze medals at major competitions as EURO 2010 and WCh 2015. Changing and replacement of head coaches was also often: Gheorghe Tadici was followed by Radu Voina in this position than Tadici was reinvented again, but these Olympic Games Romania starts under the leadership of Swedish Tomas Ryde, the man helped the team to win their last medal in Denmark.
Several players will play their last matches in OG, veterans like Aurelia Bradeanu, Paula Ungureanu, Ionica Munteanu, Valentian Ardean Elisei may not have a new chance to qualify or to reach the next Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The advantage of the Romanian team is that the players are playing together for a quiet long period, and with help of Ryde they become a real team, playing for each other and for themselves. Their slogan is: “Who are we playing for? For ourselves.” They have the Player of the year 2015, Cristina Neagu, the MVP of the last WCh and they have the deep desire and ambition to show the world that they are a valuable team. There are some problems around Neagu, she has an injury- thigh muscle strain and she is not able to train or play, at least she was only sitting on the bench when Romania played preparation tournament in Norway two weeks ago.
“Cristina has a thigh muscle strain, it seems very serious and we really don’t know if she recovers until the OG starts. The hope is there, but we cannot take anything for granted.“-said Ryde after the tournament in Ulsteinvik, Norway.
In addition during this tournament they missed another player, Anamaria Tanasie got injured, she has suffered an anterior ligament rupture, a knee injury will put her outside the handball courts for the next season. She will be replaced in the Romanian rooster by Camelia Balint Hotea, leftwing from Corona Brasov.
The Romanian SQUAD can be seen here, with the above mentioned changes.
Tomas Ryde said after the Olympic qualification tournament that: “I don’ want to take the tourist bus to the Olympics.”
Players who already experienced the atmosphere of the Olympics earlier in their career, completely got the message of their head coach and Valentina Ardean Elisei reacted: ” Thank you, Tomas, for saying this, we have already qualified to the OG earlier but we never really competed there, only participated. This time will be different.”
In the preparation tournament, Ulstein Cup from Norway, Romania played against Norway, France and Spain. Cristina Neagu has not made the warm up before none of the matches and Eliza Buceschi just came back from a longer injury period.
Results Ulstein Cup: Norway – Romania 32 – 21 (12 – 9), Romania – France 18 – 24 (7 – 13), Spain- Romania 21- 21 (11 – 11)
Key players: Cristina Neagu-leftback, Paula Ungureanu-goalkeeper, Oana Manea-lineplayer, Eliza Buceschi-playmaker
Absentees: Adriana Nechita (rightwing)-maternity leave, Anamaria Tanasie (leftwing)-knee injury, Luciana Marin (playmaker)-was not selected/she was injured, Crina Pintea (lineplayer)-not selected
Chances: there are two different scenarios for Romania: with Cristina Neagu or without her. In the first case, if Neagu plays at her level Romania has a chance to win against every opponent from the group (Angola, Norway, Montenegro, Spain, Brazil), she is unpredictable in her play and even if every player of the opponent is watching her closely she is able to make her teammates shine and decide matches at this way.
The second scenario, without Neagu: Romania can still surprise their opponents if they already know how the outcome of her injury is and they are preparing both mentally and tactically for this variant. In this case Buceschi, Bradeanu and Perianu will have to bear some extra load in order to help the team.
If Ryde’s team manages to get over group of death, the next opponent from the other group could easily be an accessible one.
Prediction: With Cristian Neagu Romania is a medal candidate.