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01.11.2014, 08:37
Russia and Ukraine to join the race for EHF EURO 2016 on Sunday
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ROUND PREVIEW 2016 - 2: Russia and Ukraine prepare to begin their campaigns, Hungary look to make up for a disappointing opener and Portugal are hungry for success ahead of Sunday’s EHF EURO 2016 Qualification matches
 

Russia and Ukraine to join the race for EHF EURO 2016 on Sunday

Russia and Ukraine will both start their EHF EURO 2016 qualification campaigns this Sunday, facing Portugal and Hungary respectively.

While the newcomers will be hoping to start their campaigns positively, they will be facing two teams hungry to prove themselves after a close match between them on Wednesday evening.

France will take to the court against Switzerland and FYR Macedonia will meet Czech Republic in what is expected to be a contest between big shooting back court players.

In Group 7, Austria will host Germany in what could prove to be a crucial match in the fight to finish in the top two.

A live ticker is available for all matches, Austria vs Germany will furthermore be streamed live on ehfTV.

Group 5: Portugal vs. Russia / Sunday, 16:00 hrs in Vila Nova de Gaia

Sunday’s match against Portugal will be Russia’s first of the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Phase after their game versus Ukraine initially scheduled for Wednesday was moved to next April due to the political situation between the countries.

Whether or not the extra rest will help or hinder Russia will be determined on Sunday when they take to the court to meet a Portuguese side fresh with confidence from their close battle (30:31) with Hungary on Wednesday. 

Russia coach Oleg Kuleshov has expressed concern over the fact that his squad is joining the qualifiers late, particularly as they will face a tough group at the Men’s World Championship 2015 and therefore need to be ready come January.

Despite Russia’s setbacks, they would have been the favourites to win their upcoming game against Portugal on Sunday – until Wednesday night, when the up-and-coming squad surprised group favourites Hungary, losing their first match against the more experienced side by just one goal.

Portugal will be hoping to continue their form against the other opponents in their group after such a strong showing against the team expected to top the Group 5 table.

Group 5: Ukraine vs. Hungary / Sunday, 18:00 hrs in Kiev

Like Russia, Ukraine will begin the qualification campaign on Sunday evening when they host Hungary in Kiev.

Despite Ukraine playing on a home court, Hungary would ordinarily be the favourites heading in to a match with Sunday’s opponent. But a less-than-perfect opening match showed the absence of Hungary’s top star, Laszlo Nagy, has a visible impact on the team’s performance.

The Hungarians were forced to step up to compensate, which they ultimately did, but there were some nervous moments when Portugal held a three-goal lead midway through the second half. In the end it was Hungary’s experience and ability to cope under pressure that won Wednesday’s match for them.

It will be a similar situation when they take to the court against Ukraine on Sunday evening. Ukraine have not qualified for an EHF EURO event since 2010, so Hungary undoubtedly have the upper hand – and the guests will be determined to show what they are capable of after their disappointing opener.

Group 6: Czech Republic vs. FYR Macedonia / Sunday, 13:30 hrs in Zlin

Sunday’s match could have been a contest between two of the biggest back-court shooters in men’s handball, both of whom are vital to their national team’s success.

But Czech Republic’s high scoring left back, Filip Jicha, is currently sidelined with an ankle injury, which puts his team in a more difficult position ahead of Sunday’s clash with FYR Macedonia.

Kiril Lazarov on the other hand, has already had the chance to demonstrate how important he is to his national team and their qualification campaign.

The right back scored 13 of Macedonia’s goals against Switzerland on Wednesday evening, playing a huge part in his team’s clear victory (27:20).

Czech Republic opened their qualification phase facing EHF EURO 2014 champions France and did not manage to challenge the powerhouse side to great effect.

Despite best efforts from the Czech squad, France played a relaxed game that still ended in a 16 goal victory (41:25).

Czech Republic will undoubtedly be hoping to make up for this disappointment – and despite the absence of Jicha, they too will be relying on back-court shooters including top scorer from Thursday’s match, right back Petr Linhart.

Group 6: Switzerland vs. France / Sunday, 14:30 hrs in Basel

Switzerland put up a strong fight against FYR Macedonia in their opening qualification phase match on Wednesday, but their creative play was continually answered by the unstoppable force that was FYR Macedonia’s Lazarov.

The final seven-goal scoreline in favour of FYR Macedonia was not reflective of Switzerland’s fighting performance, which the team will be hoping to replicate when they take on France in Basel on Sunday.

Whether France will be phased by their opponents or not remains to be seen – the EHF EURO 2014 champions used the opportunity against Czech Republic to gain experience for their up-and-coming younger players, but still managed to pull off a convincing win.

The match is undeniably in France’s favour, but Switzerland will be ready to push the strong side to the limit in an attempt to end a long drought during which they have not qualified for any major international tournament (the team have not qualified for an EHF EURO final tournament since 2006).

Group 7: Austria vs. Germany / Sunday, 18:00 hrs in Vienna

Despite recording a loss against world champions Spain in their opening match on Wednesday, Austria kept pace with their opponents for the first forty minutes of the game. The same day, Germany won convincingly against visiting Finland (30:18).

Spain are the undeniable favourites to top Group 7, which, considering Finland’s dramatic loss against Germany, would mean second place may turn into a battle between Austria and Germany – on the court and in terms of points.

Sunday’s meeting is therefore crucial to both teams. Austria will be hungry for two points that will allow them to equal Germany, while Germany will be hoping to pull further ahead on the table and place themselves comfortably at the top alongside Iceland.

The absence of Austria’s attacking mastermind, Viktor Szilagyi, may prove to be the crucial factor between the teams – it was clear the team missed his presence as they faced a Spanish wall of defence on Wednesday.

Germany are expected to put in another solid performance when they take the court on Sunday. The team showed they are a disciplined, focused side on Wednesday night when they ignored their comfortable lead and kept their opponents from scoring their tenth goal until the 38th minute.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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