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10.03.2016, 14:10
Four former Yugoslav nations face in two direct duels
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ROUND PREVIEW: Eight teams of ten in action still wait for their first points, while Croatia and Montenegro fight for the top spot in Group 4 when the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 Qualification continues on Thursday
 

Four former Yugoslav nations face in two direct duels

Round 3 of the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 Qualification will conclude with five matches on Thursday.

In four of them, teams with currently zero points on their tally will fight for their first success.

The first leg of the double-header Croatia vs Montenegro will be the days highlight, broadcast live on ehfTV, as both sides fight for the top spot in Group 4.

Group 2: Italy vs Ukraine, 19:00 hrs. local time in Follonica

Both sides were beaten by Serbia and Czech Republic in the first rounds of the qualification, and it is in particular Ukraine who are under pressure. They have never missed a Women’s EHF EURO Final Tournament before.

Head coach Borys Petrovsky, who succeeded the legendary 78-year-old Leonid Ratner, now a consultant to the national team, has a clear mission for both encounters against Italy: two wins.

“If we want to qualify to the final tournament, we must get four points from these two upcoming games. With all respect to Italy this is mandatory for us,” adds team captain Viktoriya Borshchenko.

Two Ukraine players, usually regulars in the squad in the past, have not been nominated this time around. Anastasiya Pidpalova and Natalia Parkhomenko.

“This does not mean that the door to the national team has closed for them”, says Petrovsky.

Group 4: Slovenia vs FYR Macedonia, 17:30 hrs. local time in Maribor

The situation is quite tricky for both teams: They still are on zero points after their respective first matches against Serbia and Croatia, but they keep the flame of hope burning to make it to the EHF EURO in Sweden.

Slovenia are supposed to be the favourites, not only on home court, but also for the second leg at FYR Macedonia.

The team of coach Uros Bregar has a much bigger international experience compared to the Macedonian young guns, who do not play a key role in their top club Vardar Skopje.

“Both matches in this week are a must-win, if we want to make it to the EURO, even as the best third ranked team,” says Bregar. “And we must clinch it against either Croatia or Montenegro, before we can calculate.”

The backcourt duo Lina Krhlikar and Ana Gros is back in the squad after both had been sidelined with injuries in the first two rounds.

Group 4: Croatia vs. Montenegro, 20:00 hrs. local time in Split (live on ehfTV)

With a clear record of four points from the first two matches on their tally, Croatia and Montenegro fight for the group’s top spot and potentially also an early EHF EURO ticket.

Statistics favour Croatia who won six of the last seven duels against the 2012 EURO champions, but the hosts suffered from several setbacks in the recent past such as missing the main round of the EHF EURO 2014 on home ground and the qualification to the World Championship 2015.

Nevertheless coach Goran Mrđen remains confident: “We want to win against Montenegro even though they have a better rating than us and count on great players and a great coach. But when we play at home, no one is a favourite against us.”

Maja Kožnjak, Maja Sokač, Anita Gaće, Dragica Džono and Kristina Elez will miss the matches on Croatian side, while Montenegrin coach Dragan Adzic will have to replace team captain Marija Jovanovic after she tore her cruciate ligament.

For Montenegro the match in Split is the start to eleven decisive days. After the double-header against Croatia in the EHF EURO Qualification, Montenegro fight for a ticket to the 2016 Olympic Games against Denmark, Romania and Uruguay in a tournament at Aarhus.

Group 6: Portugal vs. Turkey, 20:00 hrs. local time in Sao Pedro do Sul

Being drawn into a group with Denmark and Russia seems to block the way to Sweden 2016 for both sides.

However, the upcoming double-header are not games just for honour but also important for the teams’ development.

In the World Championship 2015 Qualification, Turkey won the match against Portugal, so Thursday’s hosts will be out for revenge.

Portugal once, in 2008, qualified for an EHF EURO event, while Turkey still wait for their first participation. But this year, this goal seems to be out of reach for both teams.

Group 7: Switzerland vs. Iceland, 20:00 hrs. local time in Siggenthal Station

“If we want to win some points in our group, then it is only possible against Iceland – and when looking at those two duels it is easier to take them on home ground,” says Swiss coach Jesper Holmris.

The Dane can count on his best possible squad including those who play abroad such as Karin Weigelt (Norway) Nicole Dinkel and Manuela Brütsch (both Germany).

On the other hand Iceland coach Agust Johannsson has to replace his right back Rut Jonsdottir. For her, the season is over after she had to undergo a shoulder surgery.

“Both games are do or die for us”, says Johannsson.

Both sides are the underdogs in this group and have lost their first two qualifiers against Germany and France respectively.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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