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05.04.2016, 08:58
Six teams play for their chance to meet Europe’s best
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PREVIEW: Narrow matches and a lot of tension are guaranteed when the final three spots for the Men’s EURO 2018 Qualification will be decided in the intermediate play-offs this week
 

Six teams play for their chance to meet Europe’s best

The final three open spots in the Men’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification will be given away this week.

25 of 28 teams overall are already confirmed for the qualification, while another six teams vie for their chance in three home and away double-headers, to be played between Wednesday and Sunday this week.

These intermediate play-offs were implemented for the first time as part of the qualification process to the Men’s EHF EURO 2016, with the three group winners of the first qualification phase for the coming EHF EURO meeting the three lowest ranked teams of the qualification campaign for the previous EHF EURO.

Two years ago Finland were the only team to make it from the first qualification phase past the play-offs. The two other matches were won by the teams that had been relegated after the EHF EURO 2014 Qualification, Switzerland and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

This year Finland are among the teams having been relegated as they finished among the three lowest ranked team in the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification. And so did Israel and Turkey.

Entering the play-offs with the momentum of having won the first qualification phase are Luxemburg, Romania and Belgium.

The aggregate winners of the double-headers will be seeded in Pot 4 at the qualification draw which will take place in Dubrovnik on 14 April 2016 at 10:30 hrs.

The Turkey vs Belgium match is streamed live via the following link: http://taksimbilisim.com/caytvplayer/

Luxembourg's match against Finland can also be watched live on the federation's website.

Israel vs Romania

First leg: Wednesday, 19:45 hrs. local time in Tel Aviv
Second leg: Sunday, 18:00 hrs. local time in Calarasi

It is definitely the top duel of this round. Both sides have already been part of EHF EURO final tournaments, but in the last few years major success has eluded them.

The World Championship 2011 has been the last appearance at a major tournament for Romania. The three-time world champions’ last appearance at an EHF EURO event even dates back to 1996.

In 2002 Israel celebrated their only appearance at an EHF EURO final tournament to date. In the most recent years, they were very close to achieving good results against Europe’s top teams, but never managed to really spring a surprise.

The match will be a duel of two highly experienced coaches: Aihan Omer on the Romanian bench and former Swedish world champion Per Carlen who coaches Israel.

Both sides only narrowly missed the World Championship 2017 Play-offs highly close. Romania were only beaten by Austria because the away-goals rule, Israel eventually ranked one point behind Portugal.

Both sides have players coming from international top leagues in their squads. For Israel for German Bundesliga player Chen Pomeranz takes to the court, Romania, among others, can count on the experience of VELUX Champions League stars such as Valentin Ghionea.

The last time both sides met on competitive level was in the first qualification phase for the EHF EURO 2014, with Romania taking a narrow 26:25 win.

Turkey vs Belgium

First leg: Wednesday, 19:00 hrs. local time in Rize
Second leg: Saturday, 20:00 hrs. local time in Angleur-Liege

Belgium were the biggest surprise in the first qualification phase in which they left Greece and Cyprus behind.

They are now looking forward to reach the second qualification phase and the chance to play against Europe’s powerhouses, but Turkey are arguably the favourites – not only because the team of coach Adnan Öztürk beat Belgium twice in the World Championship 2017 Qualification.

Turkey furthermore can count on a number of player who amassed VELUX EHF Champions League experience with Besiktas Jimnastik Kulubu this season.

Both teams have never qualified for an EHF EURO event before, however Turkey can count on a strong youth programme which is aimed at forming a team competitive enough to reach the EHF EURO 2020 which will be played with 24 teams.

Luxemburg vs Finland

First leg: Thursday, 19:00 hrs. local time in Luxemburg
Second leg: Saturday, 16:00 hrs. local time in Karjaa

One draw, and one win for each side is the head-to-head tally between Luxembourg and Finland.

Luxembourg head coach Adrian Stot is confident that his team will have the edge after the two games. “This time we can make it because Finland are in a state of transition,” he said.

The last time Luxembourg were part of the main qualification phase to an EHF EURO event was in 2010, while former IHF/EHF Challenge Trophy and IHF Intercontinental Trophy winners Finland were part of the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification, facing eventual finalists Germany and Spain as part of their campaign.

Finnish coach Kaj Kekki, who replaced the legendary Mikael Källmann, expects a strong opponent, but he hopes that the home right in the second game might be the decisive advantage for his team.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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