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01.11.2016, 11:04
Defending champions Germany begin quest for Croatia 2018
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GROUP 5-7 PREVIEW: Germany are set for their first match on the road to the EHF EURO 2018 as they host Portugal for round one of the qualification phase
 

Defending champions Germany begin quest for Croatia 2018

Groups 5 to 7 of the EHF EURO 2018 Qualification include big names such as 2016 champions Germany, Slovenia and the fourth-ranked team from the last edition of the championship, Norway, all of whom will begin their campaigns on Wednesday.

The EHF live ticker is available at ticker.ehf.eu.

Furthermore, the match between Germany and Portugal will be streamed live on ehfTV. Throw-off is at 19:00 hrs local time.

GROUP 5
Slovenia vs Switzerland, Wednesday 2 November, 18:00 local time

Group 5 opens the EHF EURO 2018 Qualification with two match-ups that should end in favour of the host teams – Slovenia against Switzerland, then Germany versus Portugal.

While Switzerland have not qualified for any major international event – the EHF EURO, World Championship or Olympic Games – since 2006, Slovenia appear to be increasingly dangerous. After ranking 14th at the EHF EURO 2016, Slovenia went on to claim one of the two tickets to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games from Olympic Qualification Tournament in Malmö.

At the tournament Slovenia opened with a victory against EHF EURO 2016 silver medallists Spain, which contributed significantly to the 2013 world champions missing their first Olympics since 1976.

In Rio Slovenia were one of the most impressive teams during the group phase, as they finished second on the preliminary round table behind only EHF EURO 2016 champions Germany.

The squad led by Veselin Vujovic was eliminated in the quarter-final stage by eventual gold medallist Denmark, but not before many of their young stars including Dean Bombac, Jure Dolenec and the youngest player at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Blaz Janc, showed they have the potential to develop into a very dangerous team.

“In the first cycle of qualifications two strong rivals, for which we prepare in the best possible way, await us. We do not have much time, but I believe in our quality and ability, and I’m sure that we will win both matches,” said Janc in an official statement on the Slovenian Handball Federation website.

GROUP 5
Germany vs Portugal, Wednesday 2 November, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV

All eyes will be on Wetzlar when the current European champions begin their qualification campaign at home.

Injury-struck Germany’s rampage through the EHF EURO 2016 to win the European title for the second time after they first raised the trophy in 2004 was something like a fairy tale, and they backed up their performance by winning the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games seven months later.

Germany count on several players in their squad that won both the EHF EURO 2016 gold and Rio 2016 bronze, though both Christian Dissinger and Martin Strobel have announced a break from the national team and Julius Kühn, Rune Dahmke and Fabian Wiede are out with an injury.

“I have analysed Portugal’s World Championship qualifiers against my home country Iceland, and we must be aware of them,” said Germany coach Dagur Sigurdsson. “A victorious start is highly important – and we have to be at 100 per cent regardless if the opponent is France or Portugal. We will need the support from the stands from the very first minute.”

Portugal finished third in their qualification group ahead of the last EHF EURO, missing out on a place at the final tournament as the places were secured by Hungary and Russia. The team are potentially looking at a similar scenario ahead of the EHF EURO 2018, with two strong prospects for the group’s places in the form of Germany and Slovenia.

GROUP 6
Russia vs Slovakia, Wednesday 2 November, 19:30 local time

Russia and Slovakia have very different EHF EURO records – Russia have qualified for every European championship since the competition’s inception in 1994, while Slovakia have made it to the final tournament only three times.

On each of those three occasions Slovakia ranked 16th. Russia on the other hand, have won the title once (1996) and claimed silver twice (1994 and 2000). Since 2000 however, Russia have not come close to replicating that success, and in 2016 only just scraped into the top 10 teams with a final ranking of ninth.

That ranking meant they missed a place at the Olympic Qualification Tournaments and therefore a spot at Rio 2016.

Despite those disappointments the odds ahead of this Group 6 match are in favour of Russia, particularly playing at home in Moscow.

GROUP 7
Norway vs Belgium, Wednesday 2 November, 19:00 local time

If any team can rival the sensation caused at the EHF EURO 2016 by Germany, it is Norway. The men’s team have long lived in the shadow of the multiple title-winning women’s side, but in January in Poland scorched through the preliminary and main rounds to make their way to the semi-finals.

Though Norway were defeated by gold medallists Germany in that stage, the result was historic as they had never contested a medal at a major international tournament before.

Their young squad including the likes of EHF EURO 2016 All-star centre back Sander Sagosen, who will join PSG Handball midway through the 2016/17 season, begin their 2018 campaign against Belgium.

For Belgium participating in the second qualification phase is momentous, as they did not make it past Qualification Phase 1 ahead of the EHF EURO 2016. They qualified for this stage of the 2018 championship with wins against Greece and Cyprus in Phase 1, followed by victories in the two-leg play-off versus Turkey.

The chances of Belgium defeating the team that finished fourth at the EHF EURO 2016 in the opening match are slim, but Norway themselves showed how a team can pull off a surprise less than 12 months ago.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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