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29.10.2014, 11:10
World champions Spain among the first to throw off EHF EURO 2016 Qualification
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ROUND PREVIEW: The race to the EHF EURO 2016 starts on Wednesday with nine qualifiers being played – and half a dozen new coaches sitting courtside
 

World champions Spain among the first to throw off EHF EURO 2016 Qualification

Until June 2015 84 matches will be played and 15 teams will eventually book their tickets for the Men's EHF EURO 2016 as the qualification to the EHF's flagship national team event starts on Wednesday (29 October).

Nine matches are being played on this day and of the 18 teams involved six have more or less recently appointed new coaches, which have been given the task to lead a successful qualification campaign.

However, only the two top ranked teams of each group and the overall best third ranked team will clinch their berths at the EHF EURO 2016.

The only team which is directly qualified are hosts Poland. The defending champions, France, are not automatically part of the event. They start their campaign on Thursday.

For all matches there is a live ticker available. Furthermore there are six matches that are streamed live on ehfTV between Wednesday and Sunday, 2 November.

Group 1: Norway vs. Turkey / Wednesday, 19:00 hrs in Kristiansund

Within just a few five days Norway can make two crucial steps towards the final tournament as they first face Turkey and then Netherlands (on 2 November), arguably the group's two underdogs.

Turkey, on the other side, hope to get a boost out of the success that Besiktas recently enjoyed, becoming the first Turkish club to reach the VELUX EHF Champions League. Besiktas players also form the core of Turkey's national team.

Norwegian coach Christian Berge, who succeeded Robert Hedin after the EHF EURO 2014, counts on some younger players, after experienced stars like Harvard Tvedten and Borge Lund bid farewell to the national team.

Given the home advantage, Norway are the clear favourites in this match.

Group 2: Belarus vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina / Wednesday, 16:30 hrs in Minsk

Two participants of the World Championship 2015 in Qatar face in this very first (time-wise) of all 84 qualification matches.

Both coaches, Youri Chevtsov for Belarus and Dragan Markovic for Bosnia-Herzegovina, know each well from their time when they played and coached in the German Bundesliga.

The match itself and its return game in June 2015 are very likely to decide which of the two teams will eventually rank second behind the group's favourites Denmark.

Both squads feature highly talented back court shooters such as Siarhei Rutenka (Belarus) and Igor Karacic (Bosnia-Herzegovina) – a powerful duel can be expected.

While Bosnia-Herzegovina never qualified for an EHF EURO event before, Belarus was part of the tournaments in Norway in 2008 and in Denmark in 2014.

Group 3: Slovenia vs. Slovakia / Wednesday, 20:30 hrs in Koper

Can Slovenia continue their streak of success after they ousted Hungary in the World Championship 2015 Play-offs?

There is no question that the team of head coach Boris Denic is definitely eager to do so – especially because Slovenia missed out on the EHF EURO 2014.

On the other side of the court Slovakia's hopes are high to clinch a berth at Poland 2016 themselves.

Keeping in mind that Sweden are arguably the group's favourites, the duel between these two contenders for the second rank might already by a crucial one.

Group 4: Iceland vs. Israel / Wednesday, 19:30 hrs. in Reykjavik

Having lost the World Championship 2015 Play-offs against Bosnia-Herzegovina is something that still hurts Iceland – but missing the final tournament in Qatar is also their motivation to do better now on the way to Poland 2016.

Even without their injured mastermind Aron Palmarsson, Iceland should not be at risk to fail against Israel.

This is although the team of head coach Dragan Djukic produced some good performances in the previous EHF EURO qualification, beating Montenegro and putting up a great fight against Germany.

However, both matches took place at home, and the Israeli side tends to be weaker when playing away.

Group 4: Serbia vs. Montenegro / Wednesday, 20:00 hrs. in Belgrade (live on ehfTV)

Is the loss to Czech Republic in the World Championship 2015 Play-offs still playing on Serbia's minds?

Despite a 23:15 win in the first leg, Serbia lost the return leg by 12 goals (21:33) – and head coach Vladan Matic immediately resigned.

His successor, former goalkeeper Dejan Peric, now faces the huge task ahead to get the team back on track and en route to the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland – but he has to do so without the help of his strong goalkeeper, Darko Stanic, who is not part of the team.

Montenegro, now coached by Ljubomir Obradovic who succeeded Zoran Kastratovic, has undergone some major changes, as Obradovic left seven former national team players out of his nomination, giving some up and coming talents the chance to prove their strengths.

The two teams have not faced each other on a competitive level yet. Given Serbia's home court advantage, they are arguably the favourites.

Group 5: Hungary vs. Portugal / Wednesday, 20:30 hrs in Miskolc

All eyes will be Talant Dushebajev: The newly appointed Hungarian head coach, who succeeded Lajos Mocsai at the beginning of October, had only three days and four training sessions to get to know his new team and prepare it for the match against Portugal.

Despite constantly improving in recent years, Portugal have not qualified for any major event in almost a decade and with Hungary, Russia and Ukraine being their opponents in Group 5, a successful qualification for the EHF EURO 2016 would mean a true surprise.

Group 6: FYR Macedonia vs. Switzerland / Wednesday, 17:45 hrs in Skopje (live on ehfTV)

Group 6 is supposed to be one of the closest and most thrilling ones of all seven qualification groups as it consists of defending champions France but also of the two World Championship participants FYR Macedonia and Czech Republic.

This arguably puts Switzerland in an underdogs' role, also for their first match on Wednesday.

FYR Macedonia are a stronghold on home court and they haven't lost a major match in Skopje except the one against eventual world champions Spain two years ago.

With players such as Kiril Lazarov, Naumce Mojsovski and Renato Vugrinec the individual class and experience of the Macedonian side is much higher than it is for Switzerland.

Group 7: Germany vs. Finland / Wednesday,  20:15 hrs. in Gummersbach

Can new head coach Dagur Sigurdsson stop the German downswing?

The Icelandic has added some fresh blood to the German side after they failed to qualify for the EHF EURO 2014 and the World Championship 2015 – only eventually receiving a tournament wild card from the IHF.

Only one player who became 2007 world champion, goalkeeper Carsten Lichtlein, has been nominated by Sigurdsson.

Finland, who are coached by Mikael Källman who in 1992 became the first non-German “German Handball Player of the Year”, might seem like an ideal opponent for the rejuvenated German side, however the Finnish side showed its strengths when it beat Romania in the intermediate play-offs to reach the current qualification phase.

Group 7: Spain vs. Austria Wednesday, 20:30 hrs. local time in Cangas del Morrazo

2013 world champions and EHF EURO 2014 bronze medallists Spain are eager to go through this qualification like they did in their campaign for the EHF EURO 2014: with a spotless record of six wins from six matches.

Head coach Manuel Cadenas counts on nearly the same very experienced and strong squad that ranked third in Denmark.

On the other hand Austrian head coach Patrekur Johannesson has to replace his team captain Viktor Szilagyi, who is recovering from an injury.

Hence the Icelandic gives some talents including Nikola Bilyk, who became MVP at the Men's 20 EHF EURO this summer, the chance to shine.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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