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31.05.2016, 15:50
Six teams ready to secure their place in Sweden
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GROUP 1-3 PREVIEW: Norway, Romania, Serbia, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Spain can book their EHF EURO 2016 berths with wins in Round 5 of the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 Qualification
 

Six teams ready to secure their place in Sweden

Six teams in Groups 1, 2 and 3 have the chance to secure their place at the final tournament in Sweden when qualification for the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 continues on Wednesday, while others will bow out of contention.

All matches can be followed with the EHF live ticker.

Group 1: Belarus vs Norway, 19:00 hrs local time in Minsk

With six points earned so far in the path to qualification for the Women’s EHF EURO 2016, Norway look set to book their place in Sweden in the last two rounds of qualification matches – and will likely achieve that against Belarus or in their last match on Saturday against LIthuania.

The EHF EURO 2014 champions have one blemish on their record in this competition: A 20:25 loss against their World Championship 2015 Semi-final opponents Romania in Round 3.

But that loss was left behind them when they defeated Romania by 10 goals in the return fixture, and the current Olympic, world and European champions can look confidently ahead to their meeting with Belarus.

The last time these teams met, in the opening round of the qualification phase, the match ended with a 35:24 victory for Norway – a score line which indicates another Scandinavian win is likely. 

If Belarus manage an upset, they will move up to six points and open the group for deciding matches in the final round.

Group 1: Lithuania vs Romania, 19:00 local time in Kaunas

As the current bottom-of-the-table side, sitting on zero points after four straight losses in the qualification phase, Lithuania are unlikely to be able to defeat a powerful Romania team that only seems stronger each time they step on the court under coach Thomas Ryde’s guidance.

Though the odds are firmly in Romania’s favour to claim their fourth set of two points and with it their place at the final tournament in December, there is no chance that the bronze medallists at the World Championship 2015 will take it easy on their hosts.

Ryde will probably use the opportunity to play his less favoured squad, and may elect to keep on the bench Cristina Neagu for much of the 60 minutes as he did in the second match against Norway.

With a number of Romanian players fresh from victory with CSM Bucuresti at the Women’s EHF FINAL4 in May, the team are in superb form and do not look to be slowing – an ominous sign for Lithuania.

Group 2: Ukraine vs Serbia, 19:00 hrs local time in Kiev

Though no team from Group 2 has mathematically secured their place in Sweden yet, the tickets are most likely to go to Serbia and Czech Republic.

Serbia currently have seven points on the table after three wins and one draw against Czech Republic in the previous round.

A victory against Ukraine will put them through to the final tournament, which will be a particularly welcome achievement given the question mark that has hovered over the team following the withdrawal of big name-players such as Andrea Lekic and Dragana Cvijic.

For Ukraine the chances of qualification for Sweden are slim at this stage, though they have four points from two wins in their tally.

Both those wins were against bottom-of-the-table team Italy, while they recorded only losses in their first fixtures against Serbia and Czech Republic – the teams they will face in the final two rounds.

Group 2: Italy vs Czech Republic, 20:00 local time in Conversano-Bari

With only losses behind them so far on the path to the EURO, Italy will face a big challenge in trying to secure their first set of two points against Czech Republic then group leaders Serbia in the final round of qualification.

Most likely they will not be able to defeat either of these sides and will therefore continue the series of non-qualification that has haunted them through all their previous attempts to reach the final EHF EURO tournament.

The team have never qualified for the event, but are showing signs of improvement thanks to an Olympic development program.

“Italy have improved a lot recently,” says Czech Republic coach Jan Basny. “They have played two good matches against Ukraine, despite the fact that the final results may suggest differently.

“It can be an advantage that we play in Italy first, as we can decide about our destiny already there, but also it gives us more time to prepare for Ukraine in case the last match will decide.”

Czech Republic are on five points and will book their spot in Sweden with a win.

Group 3: Bulgaria vs Netherlands, 18:00 hrs local time in Gabrovo

Group leaders the Netherlands meet the current fourth-place team with successful qualification for the Dutch as a result of a win the most likely outcome here.

The World Championship 2015 runners-up are currently on six points, while Bulgaria have recorded only losses and therefore have zero points.

The Netherlands are choosing to take to the court in Gabrovo without several key players, including Tess Wester, Lois Abbingh, Yvette Broch, Michelle Goos, Nycke Groot, Laura van der Heijden, Angela Malestein and Estavana Polman.

The team are clearly confident of securing a victory on Wednesday; confidence boosted by the return of goalkeeper Jasmina Jankovic from injury.

“I’m fit enough now to join the Dutch team and I’m very happy about that. Those were very tough months,” Jankovic says in an interview on the Dutch federation website.

“I’m lacking match rhythm but there a lot of trainings to build that up again. Let’s see how things are going in Bulgaria. I don’t want to put too much pressure on it and I am self-confident.”

Group 3: Austria vs Spain, 20:25 hrs local time in Innsbruck

Austria are another side that appear to have a chance to qualify for Sweden, with four points on the table from two wins against Bulgaria. But with their final two qualification opponents being EHF EURO 2014 silver medallists Spain followed by the Netherlands, the chances of securing that berth at the final tournament are small.

Last time the teams met, in Round 1 in October last year, Spain won 25:15 – though the fact that Austria kept their opponent to a reasonable score of 25 indicates their problems were concentrated at one end of the court, making it easier to pinpoint what went wrong.

They were missing left back Beate Scheffknecht, who contributed eight goals in each of their games against Bulgaria.

Not only that: Usual sharpshooter Katrin Engel scored on the lower end of her range, which usually numbers somewhere around six to eight strikes a match.

With Scheffknecht set to be on court on Wednesday, as she was in a game against Argentina last week, Austria’s attack is stronger – she scored 12 goals in their 22:18 victory against the Pan American team.

Whether her return will be enough to help the team defeat Spain, who will book their place at the final tournament with a win, is another question.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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