Slovenia co-hosting European Women's Handball Championship
Ljubljana/Celje, 4 November - The European Women's Handball Championship, co-hosted by Slovenia, North Macedonia and Montenegro, starts on Friday as Slovenia open their campaign in Group B in Celje against three-time European champions Denmark. The goal for Slovenia is to come out of the preliminary group stage, which will be a tough task given the opposition.
In addition to Celje, one more group will be hosted in Slovenia, as the Stožice Arena (12,480 seats) in Ljubljana will welcome Group A featuring Norway, Hungary, Croatia and Switzerland.
The Zlatorog Arena in Celje is smaller, with a capacity of some 5,200 spectators, so it is expected to be more packed to help Slovenia come out of Group B that also features Denmark, Sweden and Serbia.
Skopje, North Macedonia, will host Group C featuring the host nation, France, the Netherlands and Romania, and the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica will host Group D (Poland, Montenegro, Germany and Spain).
The three best teams from each of the four groups will advance to the main round, with groups A and B, and C and D crossing paths, respectively. The matches will be played in Ljubljana (Groups A and B) and Skopje (Groups C and D).
The knockout stage - both semi-finals matches as well as the final match and the matches for the 3rd and 5th place - will take place between 18 and 20 November in Ljubljana's Stožice Arena.
There is no clear-cut favourite to win the 15th European Women's Handball Championship - in the absence of Russia, pundits believe that Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain have the most chances of winning it all.
The top three teams at the tournament will secure berths for the 2023 World Women's Handball Championship in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and the European champion will also qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
In what will be their eighth appearance at the European championships, Slovenia will be looking to make it to the main round in front of the home crowd in the extremely difficult group, and the team is aware of the huge challenge.
While Slovenia rank lower than Denmark, Sweden and Serbia, the players picked by Montenegrin head coach Dragan Adžić will do everything in their power to avoid possible relegation at home immediately after the first round.
Adžić, who led the Montenegrin women's team to gold medal at the European championships in Serbia in 2012 and to silver at the Summer Olympics in London the same year, wants to see a playful, relaxed and bold Slovenian team on the court.
"My players must overcome the high expectations in their heads ahead of the competition on home turf and step onto the court with clear minds," the head coach said as Slovenia look to improve on their best result, 9th place in Hungary in 2004.
Veteran Ana Gros, the second-ranked scorer for Slovenia of all time, said that the team's defence was improving every game and that "we have the aggressiveness required for a good result. We lack some details on the offensive end."