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A Russian night in Ankara

Hentbolhaber.net contributor Dr. Altay Atlı followed the 2016 European Women’s Handball Championship qualification match between Turkey and Russia in Ankara. Here are his comments about the match and the Turkish team in general.

Yazar: Dr. Altay Atlı - Yazının Tarihi: 12 Ekim 2015

Handball was played in Ankara on the evening of a very sad day. Innocent lives lost at the terrorist attack the day before hurt us deeply, broke our hearts. When the Turkish and Russian teams set foot on the court for the 2016 European Women’s Handball Championship qualification match, our feeling were mixed. We were there to experience the beauty of handball, to live the excitement of sports. But at the same time, our minds were still with those whose lives were cut short in such a violent way; our hearts were filled with protest against this cruelty, this injustice. Before the match we took a minute of silence. The Turkish team played with black armbands. At the same time, the Russian team shared our pain by also wearing black bands on their training suits. Now, forget the score of the match for a minute; after all this is sports; any result is possible. The Russian team has not only won the match; they have also won the hearts of the people by showing their sympathy this way.


About the match, well, in a nutshell we can say that the Turkish team did not play well and lost with a large margin. Three days earlier we had played against Denmark, and despite losing the game with 28-19, our team could play evenly against a strong opponent at least in certain parts of the match. With regard to the match against Russia in our home court, we had positive expectations despite all the injured and unavailable players. It did not work out. Having defeated Portugal with a massive 39-19 in their first match of the qualification group, Russia managed to produce a similarly high score against Turkey as well.

It was the guest team who made a forceful entry into the match, and although the Turks managed to narrow down the gap around the mid-period, Russia resumed its lead through efficient attacks. Russia’s lead was down to four goals by the 17th minute, however they made it 15-8 by the 20th minute and closed the first half of the game with an 11-goal lead at 25-14. In this period we saw the Turkish team having a difficult time in both defense and offense, suffering from the absence of the players who could not play today due to injuries. The team failed to organize well in offense, could not break through the Russian defense and therefore relied on long distance shots most of which bounded from the tall Russian blockers. The line position did not work well either, and while the Turks managed to produce goals from the wings, the problem was that it was not always possible to spread the game to the wing positions. Offensive fouls and lost balls were punished by Russian fast breaks. In defense, the Turkish team could not disturb the playmakers and the Russians managed to score a number of almost carbon-copy goals through long shots from back positions. Turkey’s balance in the game was further disturbed by the 10 (yes, ten!) two-minute suspensions received during the first half.


The Turkish team managed to slow down Russia’s offense during the second half, after the 40th minute, but only to a certain extent. During the last 20 minutes of the match, Russia scored 10 goals against 9 from Turkey; and in the last 10 minutes there was 5-4 lead for Turkey. This relative improvement, however, did not suffice for Turkey to close down the overall score gap. In the second half, the Turks experimented with different offensive combinations; left winger Yasemin Şahin was brought to the central back position in an attempt to reformulate Turkey’s game play. Although these offensive formations fell short of producing the desired results, the Turks forced the opponent much better compared with the first half, and in many cases the Russian defense resorted to fouling the opponent in order to stop the Turkish attack. All of the 6 penalties awarded to Turkey came in this period; Yasemin Şahin took all of them, with a hundred percent success ratio. After Yasemin who scored a total of 8 goals, Betül Yılmaz and Perihan Topaloğlu were the top scorers with 5 and 4 goals respectively. However all of these improvements during the second half did little to change the score against the Russian team, which kept its pace during the entire game, never pausing for a moment and always maintain discipline. At the end of the game Russia won with 44-30.

It was the successful team play, which brought the Russian side the victory today. 14 out of the 16 players who were in the line-up managed to score goals, it was only the two goalkeepers who did not score. Ekaterina Ilina was the top scorer with 9 goals including four penalties, followed by Daria Dimitrieva with 7 goals and Veronika Garanina with 6 goals.

This defeat means Turkey will be facing a tough time in the qualification group. The Turks’ plan was to beat Portugal in both games and to take two points from either Denmark or Russia at home, making it to a total of 6 points which could have brought the second place in the group thanks to a favorable goal difference. Now having lost to Russia at home, the only way through which this plan can still work is to win against Denmark by at least 10 goals, and to be honest this is not a realistic objective at all. In other words, Euro 2016 is fading away on the horizon for the Turks. This, however, does not necessarily mean that they will give up.

From now on we should have two objectives. First, it is important to get four points from the two matches against Portugal. By no means can this be taken for granted. The two teams have played last year in World Championship qualifiers, and Turkey could win then only by one single goal, with 28-27. In this year’s qualifiers, Portugal lost against Russia with a large goal difference, however they played quite well against Denmark, losing 26-21.

Türkiye milli a milli

Our second objective should be to make the best out of the remaining matches in the group and ensure that we can perform well functioning, uninterrupted team play even when experienced players Yeliz Özel, Serpil İskenderoğlu and Aslı İskit do not play due to injury or some other reason. For the moment, it seems that compensate for their absence. For several positions there are simply not enough alternatives. It is true that Turkish women’s handball needs a long-term vision. We focus on the future for sure, but we should not forget that “future” has actually begun when the referee blew the final whistle at the end of the match against Russia. Our work will be shaped in accordance with long term objectives, however at the same time, within this larger framework, every match, every training is of vital importance. We want to see our women’s handball in a different position by the year 2020. As we make progress towards this goal, our team’s performance in the coming matches against Portugal, Denmark and Russia, how well we will manage to replace the missing players and how effective we will play as a team will matter significantly, regardless of the scores to come out of these matches. They will show whether we are on the right direction or not.

It was Russia’s night today in Ankara; they won the game and gave a strong message to the Danes. Now there is a break until March next year, when we will play against Portugal. I am sure that coach Hikmet Vurgun and his team will make use of this break in the most efficient way. “The future of Turkish women’s handball” started today and every passing day will be of great value. I believe that it will be very useful if all the stakeholders in Turkish handball support this team as much as they can during this process.


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