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07.06.2014, 22:31
No easy victories as World Championship 2015 Play-offs commence
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REVIEW 1: Saturday's matches marked the first taste of what European handball fans can expect when the best teams in the world meet in Qatar next January
 

No easy victories as World Championship 2015 Play-offs commence

Russia, Poland, Sweden and FYR Macedonia recorded victories in the first leg of play-off matches on the road to the Men’s World Championship 2015.

Saturday’s matches marked the first taste of what European handball fans can expect when the best teams in the world meet in Qatar next January.

Russia vs. Lithuania 30:22 (14:11)

Russia kicked off the weekend’s World Championship play-off matches with a convincing victory over Lithuania, showing why the home side were the favourites heading into the game.

After a period of disappointment for Russia, which included the team missing both the 2011 World Championship and the 2012 Olympic Games, fans can once again celebrate their country’s performance – a performance that proved Russia is back on the men’s handball map.

Russian coach Oleg Kuleshov said before the match that strength, character and fighting until the final whistle were what would see his team record a victory – and his players delivered these qualities for the entire 60 minutes.

The match was by no means one-sided, with Lithuania putting up a strong fight against their more experienced opponents. Russia took a three-goal lead into the half-time break (14:11), at which point the match was still very much undecided.

But Lithuania were unable to stop the fast game, characterised by explosive counter attacks and powerful back court shooters, played by their counterparts. The second half saw the hosts increase their lead to eight points (30:22) by the full-time whistle.

Russia will be looking to repeat their performance when the two teams meet again next Sunday. Lithuania will enjoy the home-crowd advantage for the second leg.

Poland vs. Germany 25:24 (9:12)

Fans of these two powerhouse teams were guaranteed a battle when Germany and Poland met in Gdansk for Saturday’s first leg match of the Men’s World Championship 2015 Play-offs.

The two have a recent history of meeting in important games, with Germany winning the 2007 World Championships final on a home court against Poland and Poland beating Germany at both the World Championships 2009 and EHF EURO 2012.

From the first whistle Germany appeared hungrier for victory, playing an aggressive yet disciplined defence and organised attack.

The Polish attack faltered under Germany’s strong defence, allowing their opponents to run away with a three-goal lead by the end of the first 30 minutes (9:12).

The second half appeared to be following the same trend as the first, with the Germans holding their lead for the first few minutes. The hosts eventually caught their rivals however, and took the lead for the first time in the 39th minute (16:15).

Neither of the teams were willing to let go of the all-important victory, leading to a tense last ten minutes. A goal by Mariusz Jurkiewicz in the last five seconds took the final score to 25:24 in favour of the Poland.

Germany will host Poland for the second leg of play-off matches next Saturday.

Romania vs. Sweden 24:25 (9:8)

Sweden were the clear favourites going into Saturday’s match against Romania in Bucharest. With Romania performing under expectations this year, the Swedes were cautiously confident of an away victory.

Sweden did not underestimate their opponents, with head coach Staffan Olsson acknowledging the draw could have been better, and it could have been worse.

Olsson was right to retain respect for the Romanian side – the hosts made it clear from the start they were not going down without a fight, scoring the first goal and keeping within one of Sweden for the entire first half.

A goal on the half-time buzzer by Romania gave the hosts the lead for the first time in the match (9:8).

The second half was just as surprising as the first, with Romania continuing their quest to redeem themselves following the recent disappointment of failing to qualify for the EHF EURO 2016.

A last-minute penalty against Romania decided the match, allowing Fredrik Petersen the honour of sealing his team’s victory. The final score was 24:25 in favour of Sweden.

Despite Sweden’s victory, this particular World Championships berth is not decided yet – Olsson himself reminded Swedish fans it was only two years ago the team were celebrating a silver medal at the London Olympics, mere months after failing to qualify for the World Championships.

That just goes to prove how fast things can change,” he said.

The second match between Sweden and Romania will be held in Sweden on Sunday.

Greece vs. FYR Macedonia 25:27 (12:13)

With a collection of star shooters such as Kiril Lazarov and Renato Vugrinec, FYR Macedonia were tipped to win both of their play-off matches against the less experienced Greeks.

But Greece clearly had different ideas and have made sure their rivals do not enjoy an easy ride to Qatar.

Greece managed to stay within one goal for the entirety of Saturday’s match in Athens, only succumbing to their opponent’s expertise in the last five minutes.

Saturday’s match was the first in the FYR Macedonia uniform for Slovenian-born Renato Vugrinec. Vugrinec brings many years of both international and club experience with him, but his presence seems to have done little to help his new national team on Saturday.

The visitors went into the match hoping for a decisive win that would allow for a calmer match when they welcome Greece to Skopje next Sunday.

Greece have denied them that decisive win, but a home crowd may be all that FYR Macedonia need to win more convincingly in the second leg match.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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