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06.10.2015, 19:04
Throw-off on the way to Sweden
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ROUND PREVIEW: Qualification for the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 starts with defending champions and 2014 finalists on Wednesday
 

Throw-off on the way to Sweden

The way to the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 in Sweden starts here: On Wednesday, 16 teams will take European courts in eight matches to start the second and final qualification stage for the flagship event in December 2016.

In total 28 teams vie for 15 spots, as the two best ranked teams of each of the seven groups and the overall best third ranked team will book their tickets for the EURO.

Since the final tournament in 2014 only the hosting nation is directly qualified, hence even defending champions Norway will have to go through qualification. They start their EURO mission on home ground against Belarus on Wednesday, while 2014 finalist Spain host Austria.

Round 1 of the qualification matches will conclude with six matches on Thursday.

Round 2 with another 14 matches will be carried out on Saturday and Sunday, the remaining four rounds will be played in two double headers in April and June 2016 respectively.

Group 1:
Norway vs Belarus
Wednesday, 19:00 hrs. local time in Trondheim, live on ehfTV

The six times EHF EURO winners are in the favoured role against the team from Belarus, who missed all EURO events since 2008. Norway - already qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio - won both matches in the EHF EURO 2014 qualification against Belarus in style.

Norwegian coach Thorir Hergeirsson will give the opportunity for younger players, as Karoline Breivang (end of international career) and Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth (pregnant) have to be replaced.

Though some players in the team of Belarusian head coach Tomas Chater play for clubs abroad, the international experience is much lower than their opponent’s.

Group 2:
Czech Republic vs Italy
Wednesday, 16:05 hrs. local time in Prague

The real throw-off of the qualification will be blown on Wednesday afternoon in the Czech capital Prague. It is a must-win match for the team of head coach Jan Basny in their fight for making it to the EURO event again, after they had closely failed on their way to Croatia and Hungary in 2014, defeated by Poland on home ground in the crucial match.

The young Italian team will use the qualification to learn for the future - the chances to stand against the international experienced hosts are supposed to be quite limited. But Italy want to use the upswing, caused by their two wins over FYR Macedonia in the pre-qualification for the World Championship 2015, after they did not win a single point on their way to the EHF EURO 2014.

Group 3:
Netherlands vs Bulgaria
Wednesday, 19:30 hrs. local time in Rotterdam

After narrowly missing the semi-final of the EHF EURO 2014, the Dutch team has grown more and more and gained one year more of experience. The squad of “bondscoach” Henk Groener can count on a huge number of players, signed by top clubs such as Nycke Groot, Yvette Broch (both Györ) or Lois Abbingh (Baia Mare).

In contrast, Bulgaria are debutants in this format of qualification. They had won their respective pre-qualification tournament by beating Faroe Islands and Azerbaijan on home ground. Their top star is also part of a EHF Champions League participant: Elizabeth Omoregie, playing for Krim Ljubljana.

Spain vs Austria
Wednesday, 20:45 hrs. local time in Santiago de Compostela

A holy place will be the venue for the opener of the EHF EURO 2008 and 2014 silver medallists Spain, who is aiming high again. Though some experienced players have quit their international career, coach Jorge Duenas still has a huge number of opportunities, led by former All-star team players Carmen Martin (wing) or Silvia Navarro (goal).

In contrast, Austria are in a transition. Coach Herbert Müller (in double function coach of German champions Thüringer HC) has to cope with the situation that the number of top class players at record champions Hypo decreased, so many of the Austrians play in Germany. After two clear defeats in the World Championship play-offs against Hungary in June, Austria again are the underdog at Santiago de Compostela.

Group 4:
Croatia vs Slovenia
Wednesday, 19:00 hrs. local time in Umag

The all-Ex-Yugoslavian group 4 will have their start at the Croatian-Slovenian border at the Adriatic Coast. After their setback at the home EURO 2014 and after missing the qualification for the 2015 World Championship, Croatia need a signal of success on their next mission.

Coach Goran Mrden still can count on most of the players from the EHF EURO 2014 squad, though some had originally the plan to retire. But players such as Jelena Grubisic (Bucharest), Marta Zderic (Buducnost) or Andrea Penezic (Vardar) are among the nominations for the start of the EURO qualification.

In contrast, the Slovenian Federation just changed the coach from Marta Bon to Uros Bregar, the coach of Hungarian side Vac and former assistant coach of Vardar Skopje. Only a little numbers of those big names from the past are still in his squad, as also Slovenia have rejuvenated their team in the previous years. Having more experience and the home advantage on their side, Croatia are supposed to be the favourites.

Montenegro vs FYR Macedonia
Wednesday, 19:30 hrs. local time in Bar

Unequal duel for the start of their EURO campaign for the 2012 European champions: The roles in the neighbour’s duel are clearly set - on the one hand, the team nearly equal with current Champions League winners Buducnost Podgorica, on the other hand the young inexperienced Macedonian side, which had to struggle hard in the recent years.

Nearly none of their players have Champions League experience, as big names such as Julija Nikolic have quit playing for the national team. In spring, the Macedonians even were defeated by Italy - and on home ground, the Montenegrins are nearly unbeatable.

Group 5:
Poland vs Finland
Wednesday, 20:00 hrs. local time in Lubin

Another David vs Goliath duel is looming in Lubin as the 2013 World championship semi-finalists with a big number of Champions League players vs the Finnish team, which arrives in qualification stage 2 as the winner of the qualification tournament. For Finland, it is the second time to be part of the EHF EURO qualification - and again they will gain experience, but are not supposed to be stumble stones on the way of the favourites.

Polish coach Kim Rasmussen - since some weeks also coach of the Romanian champions and Champions League contender CSM Bucharest - have a wide selection of top players, not only from domestic champions Lublin, but from international top clubs such as Kinga Byzdra (Buducnost), or Karolina Kudlacz (Leipzig).

Group 7:
Germany vs Switzerland
Wednesday, 19:30 hrs. local time in Coburg, live on ehfTV

Two unequal neighbours face in Bavaria: Germany only lost one of 17 matches against Switzerland in the history of their women’s national team. Though the team is a nearly new one with several debutants, Germany are supposed to win in a clear way, like in their last encounter in a test match in 2014 (32:22).

Switzerland’s top players are well-known for their opponents, as most of them are signed by German clubs. After finishing tenth at the 2014 EHF EURO, German have higher ambitions, which they want to prove already in the qualification.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / br
 
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