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25.03.2014, 16:03
Norway can book their ticket first
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ROUND PREVIEW: Round 3 of the Women’s EHF EURO Qualification starts with seven matches on Wednesday
 

Norway can book their ticket first

On the way to the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 in Hungary and Croatia, eleven matches will be carried out across Europe on Wednesday and Thursday.

On Wednesday, Norway can already become the first team to take one of 14 spots available at the final tournament in December.

Matches are played in five groups on Wednesday, and with all seven games on that day being the first leg of a doubleheader, the respective teams will see each other again on either Saturday or Sunday this week.

Due to the political situation in Ukraine, the match Ukraine vs. Denmark, initially scheduled for 26 March 2014, was postponed to 11/12 June, so these two teams of Group 1 will only play a match on Saturday, 29 March.

Group 2:

Finland vs. Slovakia
Wednesday, 19:00 hrs. local time in Vantaa / reverse fixture: Saturday, 18:00 hrs. local time in Michalovce

International experience meets ambitious handball newcomers in this Group 2 encounter.

The Finnish women, who won the Intercontinental IHF Trophy in Kazakhstan two years ago, want to prove their ambitions and improvement, but Slovakia, who have several players from international top clubs in their ranks, are in the favourites' role.

After a defeat against France and a win over Iceland in their EHF EURO 2014 qualification campaign to date, Slovakia need those four points to remain in the race for the tournament in their neighbour country Hungary and Croatia.

Despite all statistics that might speak for his team, Slovakia's coach, Dusan Poloz, warns his players: “There is no easy match in Europe nowadays for us; especially away ties are extremely difficult.”

Iceland vs. France
Wednesday, 19:30 hrs. local time in Reykjavik / reverse fixture: Saturday, 17:30 hrs. local time in Limoges

Three points from the two duels with Iceland would already be enough for France to secure a spot in the final tournament after they won their matches in Rounds 1 and 2 against Slovakia and Finland in convincing fashion.

The team of coach Alain Portes, who had missed the semi-final at the World Championship 2013 following a quarter-final defeat at the hands of Poland, is ready for an early decision.

Portes counts on nearly the same squad that played Serbia, boosted by the return of Camille Ayglon who celebrates her comeback after her maternity leave.

Iceland beat Finland clearly in their first qualification match and then lost by only one goal at Slovakia.

The situation ahead of the two matches is not easy for head coach Agust Johannsson, as five key players either quit playing for the national team or are currently injured.

“It is no secret that we are without many important players. But we also have good players who played well recently with their clubs,” says Johannsson.

Group 3:

Czech Republic vs. Montenegro - live on ehfTV.com
Wednesday, 16:20 hrs. local time in Most / reverse fixture: Sunday, 16:00 hrs. local time in Bijelo Polje

Both teams start their campaign in exactly the same way – by winning both matches of Rounds 1 and 2. While Montenegro's victories came as expected, Czech Republic caused a major surprise by winning 22:19 at Poland.

Now the direct encounter of these top ranked teams can already decide the eventual group winners and who secures a ticket to Hungary and Croatia.

Even though she is suspended for the next Women’s EHF Champions League match with Buducnost Podgorica, Montenegrin top star Milena Knezevic will be eligible to play with the national team.

Head coach Dragan Adzic hopes that two successes against Czech Republic could restore the defending EHF EURO champions' confidence after their early elimination in the Last 16 at the World Championship 2013 against Denmark.

The Czechs also missed the quarter-finals after losing to Norway, but in contrast to Montenegro they had reached their minimum objective.

"We want to show how our team has developed in those three years since we lost against Montenegro”, hopes coach Jan Basny, remembering the 26:42 and 26:33 defeats his team conceded against Montenegro in the qualification for the 2011 World Championship.

Portugal vs. Poland
Wednesday, 21:00 hrs. local time in Maia / reverse fixture: Sunday, 17:30 hrs. local time in Zielona Gora

This match marks the last chance for both teams to eventually jump on the EHF EURO train.

Only the aggregate winner of this duel can keep their hopes alive after both teams lost their opening matches against Czech Republic and Montenegro.

Poland will arguably be boosted by their sensational campaign at the World Championship that led them to the semi-final, even though it unfortunately ended with tears and the fourth rank.

The East Europeans are the clear favourites, while Portuguese coach Joao Florencio calls both matches “lessons for the future, as qualifying for the EHF EURO seems to be unrealistic.”

Group 4:

Netherlands vs. Spain
Wednesday, 19:30 hrs. local time in Rotterdam / reverse fixture: Sunday, 13:00 hrs. local time in Logrono

Netherlands cried bitter tears, while Spain jumped for joy back at  the qualification tournament for the 2012 Olympic Games in Guadalajara, Spain.

The Dutch team missed the ticket to London by only one goal, while Spain secured the spot and eventually won the Olympic bronze medal.

Now it is time for a possible revenge for the Netherlands. After quite a weak performance at the 2013 World Championship in Serbia, the team of head coach Henk Groener wants to prove that they are back on track.

And the same is true for Spain, who finished 11th, only two places ahead of Netherlands in Serbia. Both coaches only made minor changes to the World Championship squads.

Both teams won their first two matches in qualification and winning both encounters would already bring top spot in this group and a ticket to the main event for either team.

Group 6:

Norway vs. Belarus
Wednesday, 19:15 hrs. local time in Stavanger / reverse fixture: Sunday, 16:00 hrs. local time in Mogilev

Although they have to replace their key players Anja Edin-Hammerseng and Isabel Blanco, the reigning Olympic champions are the clear favourites against Belarus.

After winning both opening encounters against Romania, a draw in the first leg is already enough to clinch a berth for the EHF EURO 2014.

On the other side of the court, Belarusian head coach Tomaz Cater counts on internationally experienced players such as Liliya Artsiukhovich and Anastasia Lobach from Zvezda Zvenigorod, Karyna Yezhykava from Astrakhanochka, Valiantsina Nesrsiaruk from SPR Lublin and Alena Abramovich from FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria.

As Norway will already finish their EHF EURO 2014 qualification campaign on Sunday, Belarus hope to eventually finish ahead of Romania after they meet in Rounds 5 and 6 in June.

Group 7:

Russia vs. FYR Macedonia
Wednesday, 19:00 hrs. local time in Rostov-Don / reverse fixture: Saturday, 17:45 hrs. local time in Skopje

Three points from taken from the doubleheader against FYR Macedonian would be enough to book a ticket for the EHF EURO 2014 for Russia, who lost the first, but won the second match against Germany in Rounds 1 and 2.

Macedonian coach Risto Magdincev will have to replace a huge number of experienced players, who quit playing for the national team due to different reasons.

Back court player Ivana Sazdonvski will be the only one representing national champions Vardar Skopje. She will face her Russian teammate Tatiana Khmyrova, one of the most experienced players in the squad of coach Ewgeny Trefilov.

Due to the newly built Macedonian team, four-times world champions Russia are in the favourites' role.

And after missing out on the World Championship, Russia want to book this ticket as soon as possible.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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