Denmark and Russia win thrillers to clinch their Algeria berth
After France (as defending U19 World Champion), Spain, Germany, Croatia and Norway (all from the Men's 20 EHF EURO 2016) had qualified for the U21 World Championship in Algeria (17 to 30 July 2017) directly, the remaining seven open spots for European teams were confirmed this weekend.
FYR Macedonia had been the first to book their ticket on Friday thanks to the better goal difference compared to Portugal, equal in five points after a draw in the direct duel.
Russia, Denmark, Slovenia, Iceland, Hungary and sensationally Faroe Islands followed the Macedonians as winners of their respective tournaments. The most thrilling decisions were taken in Italy, where Russia celebrated, and Romania, where Denmark won the decisive Scandinavian classic against Sweden.
In Group 1 in Chieti (Italy), the Dutch side seemed to be on the winners’ way against Russia in the crucial duel after both sides had each won their first two encounters against the hosts and Latvia.
At the break, Netherlands were ahead by 20:15, but then it took the Russians only 13 minutes to turn the page for their first lead at 24:23. Despite a 31:28 advance, the deal had not yet been sealed for the Russians, as Netherlands first netted in twice, but then failed in their final attack, thus Russia took a lucky 31:30, propelling them to Algeria.
2013 U21 World Champions Sweden, in contrast, will miss the next World Championship after a 21:24 defeat against their arch rivals Denmark in Pitesti, Romania. In Group 2, both had taken clear wins against Romania and Bulgaria, before the direct duel needed to decide.
Sweden were ahead most of the first half (10:10), then the duel remained absolutely equal until the score of 22:21 in favour of the Danes 90 seconds before the end. Thanks to the two last goals, the 2015 U21 World Championship runners-up booked their ticket.
In Group 4, Slovenia kept their clean record until the end. After host Slovakia had given a win against Ukraine from their hands at Hlohovec, the Slovenians only needed a draw to book their ticket in their final encounter, but finally the U19 World Champions runners-up took a 20:17 victory to leave Slovakia and Ukraine behind. Kosovo finished on zero points.
Iceland had a much easier weekend at Serbian city Gornji Milanovac. Already before the last match of Group 5 (32:30 against Serbia), the team of legendary Olafur Stefansson clinched the ticket after beating Lithuania and Greece. Icelandic Odinn Thor Rikhardsson was the overall top scorer of all qualification groups by 23 goals in total. Host Serbia was a major disappointment, losing all three matches.
Only three teams were part of the qualification tournament in Maria Enzersdorf, Austria, after Montenegro could not depart due to the weather chaos in South-East Europe. Finally, thanks to two close wins against the hosts (28:27) and the Czech Republic (29:25) Hungary secured their berth to Algeria in Group 6. In both matches, Matyas Györi was the Hungarian top scorer by an overall of 15 goals.
Nobody could expect that the final match of Group 7 – hosts Faroe Islands vs Finland – would decide the tournament in Torshavn. The Faroese sensationally had beaten the favoured Swiss side 28:24 before, while Finland were defeated by the ninth ranked team of the 2016 U20 EURO 28:26.
But in case of a win with a three or more goal difference against the hosts, the Finnish team would have booked their ticket to Algeria.
After a 16:12 half-time lead, the Faroese team was already close to Northern Africa, but Finland improved. Finally the clock was ticking against the visitors, as they missed too many chances in the last minutes.
When Helgi Hildarsson Hoydal netted in for the 28:25, the Faroese dream came true. His side kept their clean record by a final result of 29:28.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / br