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10.03.2011, 10:29
Road to Serbia: Four teams with six points
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Surprise defeats for Denmark and Sweden, first victories for Estonia and Israel – summary of Round 3, day 1, of the EHF EURO 2012 qualification.
 

Road to Serbia: Four teams with six points

Four teams from central and eastern Europe are moving a step closer towards Serbia after their third victories: Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary. Surprisingly World championship semi-finalists Sweden and Denmark lost their games, also the German crisis continued. Two small handball nations could celebrate their first victories in this qualification: Israel and Estonia.

GROUP 1

FYR Macedonia vs. Hungary 22:29 (6:16)

After their third straight victory Hungary are close to the EHF EURO 2012. The easy clear win came as a surprise as the team of coach Lajos Mocsai defeated FYR Macedonia on their ground. The Macedonians slept well in the start of the match while the guests quickly produced a gap at 6:1. Goalkeeper Roland Mikler performed excellently – including three saved penalties in the starting period – which let the distance increase. Thanks to their counter attacks Hungary had already decided the game at the break with a ten goal lead. FYR Macedonia saved face by scoring many goals in the last 15 minutes – but the Hungarian victory was never endangered. Mocsai: “We calmed down the 3,500 spectators very fast with our perfect start. Especially our defence worked well. Now it is our objective to book the tickets for Serbia on Sunday in Veszprém.” Top scorer was Tamas Ivancsik with four goals.

Estonia vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina 35:30 (16:13)

Ten goals of top star Mait Patrail paved the way to this big sensation: EHF EURO qualification debutants Estonia beat the favoured team from Bosnia, took their first points in this qualification and leapfrogged the Balkan team in the ranking. Estonia was in lead over the whole 60 minutes. Bosnia never found their rhythm as the Baltic team increased the lead to six goals for the first time after 24 minutes (15:9). Even as Bosnia reduced to only two goals after the break the hosts were not shocked but played highly efficient in attack. Ten minutes before the end the match was decided at the score of 30:23. Besides Patrail, Dener Jaanimaa was strong with seven goals.

GROUP 3

Slovenia vs. Poland 30:28 (14:14)

The Slovenians are in a very good position on the road to Serbia: After their third straight victory they are now three points ahead of Poland and could secure their EHF EURO 2012 place on Saturday in the return match. More than 11,000 spectators attended this match full of tension and fight. After the hosts took a 6:3 lead the Polish team fought back and equalized at the score of 11:11 only minutes before half-time. The score remained quite levelled until minute 57 and the score of 28:28 – before goalkeeper Skok became the key figure for the Slovenians. His saves and the two decisive goals of Dragan Gajic – who was the top scorer of this game with eight goals – decided the match. Tluchynski scored six goals for Poland.

Portugal vs. Ukraine 28:16 (17:6)

Portugal are Poland’s first competitors for the second qualification ticket in Group 3. Thanks to this clear victory over the Ukraine the Iberians have now taken place 2, ahead of the Polish. Both teams have three points, while the Ukraine still haven’t got any points on the bank. Portugal could count on their strong defence in the starting period and extended the gap to 6:1 and 12:5.In the last ten minutes the hosts performed with even more speed, and decided the game before the break with a clear eleven goal gap. In second half coach Mats Olsson substituted a lot to save the powers of his key players. Even as the Ukraine improved and reduced the gap to 11:19 the Portuguese victory was never in danger. “There is no secret for this clear victory,” coach Olsson said, “We have been working hard, but with joy. Now we want to take two points in the Ukraine. The qualification for Serbia is still undecided.”

GROUP 4

Slovakia vs. Sweden 23:21 (13:11)

Slovakia made their own weak performance at the World Championship 2011 forgotten by beating World Championship semi-finalists Sweden. It was the first ever Slovakian victory in the fifth duel between those countries. With now six points the Slovaks took the lead ahead of their opponent (4 points) and are almost through to Serbia. The hosts took revenge for the clear 22:38 defeat against Sweden at the World Championship. Supported by a enthusiastic crowd the hosts started well before Sweden improved. In the end of the first half Slovakia took back the lead and secured it until the break. The match remained equal until the final stage. In minute 57 it was an intermediate score of 20:20 before Slovakia scored twice and goalkeeper Richard Stochl saved two shots. After Sweden could reduce to 21:22, Miroslav Volentics sealed the victory in the last minute. “My team played with a big heart and enthusiasm,” Slovak coach Zoltan Heister said, “We knew that we could manage to win, as Sweden became nervous after the break.” On the other side, Swedish coach Ola Lindgren was disappointed: “We were unable to move fast and our offense was not good. Slovakia won thanks to their defence and goalkeeper Stochl.” Another key figure was Oliver Rábek, who became top scorer with seven goals in his third ever international match.

Israel vs. Montenegro 29:24 (15:13)

First points for Israel, third defeat for Montenegro: another big surprise in the third round of the EHF EURO qualification. “This match was great and never expected joy. I hope we can continue like this,” Israel’s top scorer Avishai Smolar (nine goals) stated after the victory. After the equal score of 5:5 the hosts took the lead and did not give it out of their hands until the final whistle. At the break Montenegro still hoped to turn the match, but within ten minutes Israel decided the game at the score of 23:15. Even as the Balkan team reduced the gap to 21:25 the hosts fought back bravely and secured this first victory.

GROUP 5

Latvia vs. Austria 25:28 (13:14)

After a disappointing performance at the World Championship, Austria is back on track. With this important away victory they took the lead in their group with five points. But the victory in Latvia was one without glamour as Austria did not work more than they had to in order to gain both points. “We can play much better – but it is the final result that counts,” Austrian top scorer Conny Wilczynski (seven goals) said. Best Austrian player was once again goalkeeper Nikola Marinovic. In the first half the guests missed too many chances to get into a clear lead, but if not before, then at the score of 20:14 the winner was known. Even as Latvia came as close as three goals in the final stage, Austria secured the victory.

Iceland vs. Germany 36:31 (21:14)

Revenge for the defeat and Sweden, revenge for the defeat in Austria – the Icelandic team is back on track. After losing against Germany at the World Championship and their away defeat in their EHF EURO qualifier they now have best chances to go to Serbia. With four points on their account, they rank one point below Austria and one point ahead of Germany. After their disappointing performance in Sweden the Germans still lack success. Especially during halftime one, they were absolutely weak in attack – as on the other side Icelandic goalkeeper Björgvin Gustavsson saved incredible 15 shots. The match seemed to be decided at the halftime score of 21:14, but the host even extended the lead to 26:17 thanks to the great performances of Olafur Stefansson, Aron Palmarsson and top scorer Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson (12 goals) – three of eleven Icelandic players from German clubs. But then the Nordic team lost their rhythm knowing that they had won. The Germans saw their chance and decreased the gap to four goals (27:23 and 30:26 in minute 50) – but every time they had the chance to turn the game, Gustavsson (in total 29 saves) stood in their way. Stefansson secured the points with his 34:28. The Germans now urgently need a victory on home ground against Iceland to keep their hope for Serbia alive.

GROUP 6

Czech Republic vs. Norway 29:26 (11:13)

Filip Jicha makes the difference: The World Handball Player of the Year decided this crucial game on his own with impressive 13 goals against Norway. With six points on the bank, the Czech Republic kept the lead two points ahead of Norway. Another victory in the return match on Sunday would give the Czechs an early ticket to Serbia. Norway was dominant before the break as they punished every Czech mistake with a counter attack. But as goalkeeper Peter Stochl improved and the “Jicha machine” was on working temperature, the team of coach Peter Liptak was unstoppable. From minute 35 on the hosts took the lead and extended it to three goals. Best Norwegian scorer was Havard Tvedten with six goals. “It was not mine, it was a team’s success”, Jicha said about the “Jicha-Mania” he had caused in his home country. “Now Norway is under pressure on Sunday. I hope we can take advantage of that situation,” Jicha added.

Greece vs. Netherlands 30:23 (14:12)

The Island of Crete was a breeding ground for the Greek team, as they there took their first points in this EHF EURO qualification match against the Netherlands. Greece started furious with a 10:5, but then the Dutch woke up. After reducing to two goals at the break, they equalized at the score of 17:17 – and were close to turn the match completely. But somehow the “Oranjes” lost their rhythm again and Greece extended to 23:19 very quickly. In the end the Netherlands resigned and Greece had no problems to take a clear victory. “The number of technical mistakes was much too high to have chances to win this game – and Greece took advantage from all those mistakes,” Dutch coach Gino Smits said.

GROUP 7

Russia vs. Denmark 31:27 (16:13)

The Danish euphoria came to an abrupt end in Russia: Six weeks after winning the Silver medal at the World Championship, the Wilbek team lost in Chekhov. In Group 7 the Russians took the lead with six points, two points ahead of the Danes. The Scandinavians were far away from the form they showed in Malmö at the World Championship – a tournament Russia had missed due to an loss against Romania in Chekhov. So the hosts had something like a revenge at this arena. At the 7:4 for Russia Wilbek took his time-out – but nothing changed as Russia increased to 10:4. Goalkeeper Oleg Grams had a brilliant day. Even as the Danes reduced to 10:12 and 13:16 they could not take control of the match. It took the Russians only eight minutes after the break to produce a five goal difference, taking advantage of in total eleven goals of Konstantin Igropoulo. The match was decided at the score of 24:19.

Switzerland vs. Belarus 31:34 (16:16)

After Swiss champions Schaffhausen eliminated Belarusian champions Minsk in their VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League group, the roles were changed on a national team level. Thanks to their close victory, Belarus took their first points and the Swiss team remains with zero. Switzerland started well into the game but then lacked concentration and efficiency. The match was close until the break, then Belarus increased the gap. In minute 53 and the score of 29:29 hope returned to the host. But they caused a series of mistakes, punished by the guests.

Find more information at the official EHF EURO website, http://www.ehf-euro.com/srb2012/

Also, you are welcome to join the growing fan community of the event on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/srb2012


TEXT: Björn Pazen
 
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