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10.10.2015, 21:24
Qualification heats up in Groups 4-7
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ROUND PREVIEW: 12 teams take to the court for the second time this week on the road to the Women’s EHF EURO 2016
 

Qualification heats up in Groups 4-7

There were few surprises and big score lines in the opening matches of Women’s EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Phase on Wednesday and Thursday. Already some teams are under pressure if they hope to stay in the race for the final tournament and 12 teams in Groups 4-7 have the chance to add to their points tally on Sunday.

GROUP 4
Slovenia vs Montenegro
Sunday, 16:00 hrs. local time in Ljubljana

EHF EURO 2012 champions Montenegro did just enough to claim the win in their opening match, defeating FYR Macedonia by seven, in a game that could have been more one-sided than it was.

Once their lead was established, Coach Dragan Adzic chose to focus on defence and rest his key players, so Montenegro’s stars like shooter Katarina Bulatovic and Milena Raicevic come into Sunday’s match ready to rumble.

Even nine goals from Slovenia’s top scorer, Tamar Mavsar, in their campaign opener were not enough to challenge Croatia and the team lost 19:27.

Montenegro should be an even tougher challenge, particularly given the result the last and only time these teams met. Their 2008 encounter ended with a 10-goal victory for Montenegro, ending 32:22.

GROUP 5
Finland vs Hungary
Sunday, 14:00 hrs. local time in Karjaa

Alongside Poland, Hungary are the likely favourites to claim Group 5’s tickets to Sweden, a prediction reinforced by their opening qualifier against Slovakia. The sixth-place finishers at the Women's EHF EURO 2014 defeated Slovakia 32:19, with Szabina Maier the top scorer of the game with five goals.

Hungary are still without star and former World Player of the Year, Anita Gorbicz, but after her absence of almost a year the rest of the national side have undoubtedly grown into the increased responsibility. Zsuzsanna Tomori, Zita Szucsanszki and Aniko Kovacsics now lead the team on court.

Finland will come into the game hoping for a better result than they recorded in their opener but it will be a big surprise if they defeat their visitors. The Scandinavian team lost 12:29 against Poland on Wednesday with Linda Cainberg scoring five goals to be their most dangerous attacker.

GROUP 6
Portugal vs Denmark
Sunday, 16:10 hrs. local time in Pinhel

Portugal have qualified only once for an EHF EURO event, in 2008, making them the underdogs in a tough group that includes two of the most established handball nations. They made the long journey to Russia for the first-leg match on Thursday, where they were defeated 19:39 by the powerful team and now return home to face Scandinavian dynamo, Denmark.

Similar to Russia, Denmark are looking to record some stronger results in the near future after a somewhat disappointing eighth-place finish at the EHF EURO 2014. As hosts of the upcoming Women’s World Championship, as well as being the only team to proceed through the EHF EURO 2014 qualification unbeaten, they have an extra boost of motivation to be at their best.

Denmark showed their strength with a 28:19 win against Turkey in Aarhus on Thursday, and will be hoping for a repeat performance when they take to the court in Portugal.

Turkey vs Russia
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time in Ankara

Russia have had some disappointing results over the last year – and not only in the women’s team. They finished 14th at the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 last December before the men ranked 19th at the 2015 World Championship in January. The Russian Handball Federation responded with some changes and the women’s team promptly rewarded them with a World Championship qualification.

Now the side, whose firm goal it is to make it back to the top of world handball, are ready to qualify for their next major tournament and they are off to a good start. On Thursday, Russia played host to Portugal, finishing with a 20-goal win.

Russia’s stars include Ksenia Makeeva and youngster Daria Dmitrieva. Ekaterina Davydenko was the top scorer on Thursday with seven goals. 

Turkey’s achievements are incomparable with Russia’s strong history of medals, having never qualified for a major tournament and recording only four points in the EHF EURO 2014 Qualification Phase thanks to two wins over Italy. Sunday’s match will be a hard game but perhaps the increasing numbers of handball fans in Turkey can help them pull off a surprise finish.

GROUP 7
Switzerland vs France
Sunday, 15:00 hrs. local time in Birsfelden

France recorded a strong win in their opening match against Iceland to add to their undefeated tally against the Scandinavian team and now prepare to face Switzerland at home.

Switzerland lost their first-leg game against Germany with an 11-goal deficit (18:29). The score line in the opener, despite Germany not playing their strongest 60 minutes, does not bode well for Switzerland, who will find a similarly tough, if not tougher opponent, when they meet France.

Both teams are missing key players out with injury. For Switzerland it is Karin Weigelt, while France are without line player Nina Kamto Njitam and goalkeeper Cleopatre Darleux.

Iceland vs Germany
Sunday, 16:00 hrs. local time in Reykjavik

Germany did not start strong in their first-leg game against Switzerland but after 25 minutes managed to pull themselves together to finish with a decisive victory and take a deserved two points.

Head coach Jakob Vestergaard is aware that a bigger challenge awaits them on Sunday, commenting after the game against Switzerland, that the team made too many early mistakes but the win will give his side confidence ahead of their tougher meeting.

Iceland are not a favourite to qualify for the final tournament but sport likes surprises. After qualifying for the main event in 2010 and 2012, the Scandinavian side missed out in 2014 and will be looking for redemption this year. A win at home against Germany would be an ideal result to help them on the difficult journey.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ec
 
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