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10.10.2015, 19:28
Groups 1-3 ready for Round 2 on Sunday
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ROUND PREVIEW: Sunday is a big day of Women’s EHF EURO 2016 qualifying action with 12 games across the continent
 

Groups 1-3 ready for Round 2 on Sunday

Following the opening round of the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 qualifying matches on Wednesday and Thursday, all teams are ready for their chance to grab two crucial points this weekend. Sunday is crammed with action, with 12 games taking place in Groups 1-3.

Group 1:
Lithuania vs Norway
Sunday, 13:00 hrs. local time in Kaunas

As the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 champions, Norway began their campaign as expected – with a big win against their first rivals, Belarus. The Scandinavian side finished with an 11-goal advantage, showing the result was never really in danger. They are not a team to underestimate their opponents so Lithuania should expect the full, fast-paced onslaught.

Katrine Lunde returned after her pregnancy to the national team in the first round, adding her name to the already-stellar line-up including the likes of former IHF World Player of the Year Heide Loke – the top scorer with seven goals against Belarus – and star right back Nora Mork. Norway has a squad likely to give Lithuania a lot of trouble.

Lithuania suffered an expected 29:20 defeat at the hands of Romania in their opening game on Thursday.

Belarus vs Romania
Sunday, 15:00 hrs. local time in Minsk

Belarus come into Sunday’s game licking their wounds after a clear 35:24 defeat against Norway. They will face yet another strong opponent when they welcome Romania, who are the favourites from the group to qualify for the final tournament alongside the defending champions.

Belarus will count on key players as Valiantsina Nestsiaruk, who tallied seven goals against Norway, and Nataliya Kotsina, who contributed five.

Romania are currently on two points following a victory against Lithuania in the first-leg match. Their biggest threat against Lithuania was shooter and former World Player of the Year Cristina Neagu, who Belarus will need to keep under control.

Romania looks even better under the leadership of Swede Tomas Ryde, who replaced Gheorghe Tadici after the team’s disappointing results at the 2013 IHF World Championship and EHF EURO 2014.

Group 2:
Ukraine vs Czech Republic
Sunday, 18:00 hrs. local time in Uzhgorod

Czech Republic had an almost flawless opener against Italy in their first leg, winning 33:15 in a game that saw almost every player on the score board and a diverse display of attacking tactics. Coach Jan Basny was able to rotate through the bench in order to rest players ahead of Sunday’s match.

Ukraine should be ready to face a well-prepared squad, which will prove a challenge after their difficult first-leg loss against Serbia on Thursday.

Ukraine have never failed to qualify for an EHF EURO event. Considering the results from the first round it would seem Serbia and Czech Republic are looking strong to claim the first two places, which means Ukraine have a battle ahead in order to continue their qualifying streak.

Ukraine and Czech Republic have met twice before with each winning once, though the Czechs took their most recent match 25:22.

Italy vs Serbia
Sunday, 19:00 hrs. local time in Andria

Will the home-crowd advantage be enough to pull Italy through a difficult 60 minutes to claim their first two points? Coming up against a tough Serbia squad, which showed what they are capable of with a 34:24 win against Ukraine, it would appear a high hurdle.

But Italy have something in their favour – Serbia head coach Sasa Boskovic’s squad is missing several big names, including Andrea Lekic, Katarina Tomasevic, Sanja Damnjanovic, Jelena Popovic and Dragana Cvijic. Indeed, the only players from the 2013 IHF World Championship silver-medallist squad that will take to the court against Italy are Katarina Krpez and Kristina Liscevic.

Italy lost their first game against Czech Republic, with Anika Niederwieser contributing eight goals.

Group 3:
Bulgaria vs Spain
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time in Gabrovo

It is a case of two teams with completely opposite results in their first-leg match meeting to contest the precious two points. Bulgaria lost by 21 goals to the Netherlands in their opener, and will therefore be looking for a much stronger performance against Spain – but there are hardly any more difficult teams to face.

As runners-up of the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 and bronze medallists at the 2012 Olympic Games, Spain have been one of the strongest teams in recent years. They are therefore the firm favourites to take the two points and place themselves at the top of the group table, particularly with a list of stars including captain Marta Mangue Gonzalez, Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa, Carmen Martin Berenguer and Nerea Pena Abaurrea leading their speedy attack and the superb reflexes of Silvia Navarro Gimenez behind them in defence.

Bulgaria’s key players include centre back Elizabeth Omoregie and left back Stefka Agova.

Austria vs Netherlands
Sunday, 18:15 hrs. local time in Maria Enzersdorf

The Netherlands have been steadily becoming more of a threat over recent years, ranking seventh at the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 and qualifying for three consecutive IHF World Championships after a six-year absence. Their win against Bulgaria in the first leg showed just what impressive form ‘Oranje’ are in, with almost every player contributing to the huge final score line.

“I think as a team we are stronger than in recent years. Many girls play for top clubs all over the world, they are playing at the highest level. They all get better individually and, hopefully, the team also improves,” goalkeeper Tess Wester said on the NHV website website of Dutch federation NHV, warning that the team cannot get ahead of themselves despite being favourites alongside Spain to top the group.

“Of course, we have a strong team on paper and we need to win these matches in order to qualify for Sweden. But it’s probably premature to say it’s a certainty.”

Austria will be another team hoping to improve their performance on Sunday after being outplayed by Spain in their first game, scoring only six goals in the first half against a strong defence. Will the Netherlands prove an easier opponent?


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ew
 
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