Neagu, who else? Big question looming over Romania
Romania’s last two medals in important tournaments, EHF EURO 2010 and World Championship 2015, came in Denmark. Can they continue the series and fulfil their ambitions at EHF EURO 2020?
Both times, Cristina Neagu was the top scorer of the tournament and Romania will definitely need more of the same from their superstar. The only problem is that handball is a team sport and a player cannot singlehandedly carry a team throughout a tournament.
Romania also have the EHF EURO 2018 All-star Team line player, Crina Pintea, and various other experienced players, but they are dependent on CSM’s left back.
With a new coach in Bogdan Burcea, Romania will surely amp up their defence, but is it enough for another medal quest?
- Bogdan Burcea, Romania’s coach, will make his debut as a national team coach at the EHF EURO 2020
- 20 of the 21 players called up by Bogdan Burcea are playing in the Romanian league, with Podravka’s goalkeeper Yuliya Dumanska the only exception
- Romania’s left back, Cristina Neagu, is the EHF EURO all-time top scorer with 237 goals, 32 more than the previous record holder, Hungary’s Agnes Farkas
- Romania’s best EHF EURO performance came in 2010, when they defeated hosts Denmark in the bronze medal game with the fewest goals ever, 16:15
- the Romanian side finished fourth in the EHF EURO 2018, their best result since winning the bronze medal in 2010
Most important question: Will unheralded Burcea seize his chance?
Many in Romania have circled Bogdan Burcea’s name as a future coach for the national team back when he was an assistant for Gheorghe Tadici in 2015. A defence-first, no-nonsense coach, Burcea led SCM Craiova to an unlikely win in the Women’s EHF Cup in 2018, besting teams that were better and more experienced on paper.
Now Burcea, who has been coaching professional teams since he was in his early 20s, has his chance. With preparations hampered by the pandemic, the 48-year old coach will make his debut at the EHF EURO 2020 in the group phase game against Germany.
Romania are an experienced team and most players are already acquainted with Burcea’s style, yet finetuning was needed before having to break out on the big stage. This tournament will make or break Burcea’s legacy and a good start is a must for the new coach, who has never featured as the main ace on the bench for a national team.
Under the spotlight: Cristina Neagu
EHF EURO 2018 was a bittersweet pill for Cristina Neagu. The Romanian sharpshooter became the all-time top scorer in the EHF EURO history, only to suffer a severe knee injury in the main round game against Hungary, which effectively ended Romania’s hopes for a medal.
Neagu bounced back and at 32 is ready to go, as she showed in the DELO EHF Champions League this season, where she scored 42 goals in just five games.
“Do not count on Neagu to do everything,” Romania’s captain said after CSM Bucuresti, her club team, lost against Rostov-Don (27:22) in November, despite her own 11-goal outing.
The plea was understandable: having tested positive for Covid-19 in October and suffering another minor knee injury weeks later, Neagu need to be at 100 per cent for Romania at the EHF EURO 2020.
The event in Denmark will likely not be Neagu’s swan song, as her work ethic and discipline will ensure other vintage years for the Romanian star. Yet the zenith of her career is closer now and Romania will need to maximise those years if Neagu is to earn another medal in her award-studded career.
What the numbers say
51.5 – the percentage of wins (42 wins in 82 games) for Romania at the EHF EURO. Only five sides have a higher percentage: Norway with 80.6, Denmark with 64.4, Montenegro with 62.5, Hungary with 54.5, Germany with 53.
EHF EURO participations (including 2020): 13
Bronze medal (1): 2010
4th (2): 2000, 2018
Winners (1): 1962
2nd (2): 1973, 2005