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01.05.2017, 23:30
Coach and player debuts on the road to Croatia
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ROUND PREVIEW 1: Germany’s new coach Christian Prokop has his official debut against Slovenia on Wednesday, while Daniel Dujshebaev dons the senior Spain jersey for the first time
 

Coach and player debuts on the road to Croatia

Rounds 3 and 4 of EHF EURO 2018 Qualification see crucial double headers as Latvia and Netherlands look for their first victories, Spain aim to secure a place in Croatia with two wins against Austria, and Ukraine meet Czech Republic.

In Group 5, 2016 champions Germany, led by new coach Christian Prokop, meet freshly crowned World Championship bronze medallists Slovenia.

GROUP 1
Latvia vs Netherlands, Wednesday 3 May, 19:35 local time

With Denmark and Hungary leading the group on four points each, Latvia and Netherlands meet for an important double header this week.

Neither Latvia nor Netherlands have ever made it to the final EHF EURO tournament and, given the strength of the group leaders, have a very tough challenge ahead if they are to climb their way into first or second place.

These sides will likely see their best opportunity to qualify as the top third-ranked team, and the two matches between them on May 3 and 7 will therefore be crucial.

Both recorded decisive losses in the opening rounds, with Latvia losing 16:24 to Hungary then 23:36 to Denmark, while Netherlands were defeated 20:29 by the Olympic champions. But the Netherlands can look back on one strong performance to boost their confidence ahead of the clash with Latvia, as they lost by only one goal (27:28) to Hungary.

GROUP 3
Austria vs Spain, Wednesday 3 May, 20:25 local time

EHF EURO 2016 runners-up Spain are the strong favourites ahead of their double header against Austria, despite taking to the court without some of their stalwarts. Captain Raul Entrerrios and right wing Victor Tomas have both been left off the squad list as coach Jordi Ribera makes room for new players to gain international experience.

Joining the squad in their place are young centre back Daniel Dujshebaev (19) and right wing Ferran Sole (24), while veteran Arpad Sterbik steps back into the goal in place of injured Gonzalo Perez de Vargas.

Ribera makes no secret that Spain’s goal is to qualify this week: “Austria is the most important opponent of the group. The first objective is to be qualified as soon as possible and afterward focus on preparing our best for the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia.”

Spain currently lead the group on four points from two wins against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Finland, while Austria are on two after a shock loss to Finland in their qualification opener and a 23:22 victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

GROUP 4
Ukraine vs Czech Republic, Wednesday 3 May, 19:00 local time

Everything remains open in Group 4, as all four sides are on two points after one win and one loss each. There seems to be no pattern as Ukraine lost to FYR Macedonia and beat Iceland, while Czech Republic won against FYR Macedonia and were defeated by Iceland.

In fact, the only common component of all four matches in the group so far is that the home side was always the victor – which would seem a good omen for Ukraine ahead of the first-leg game against Czech Republic in Sumy.

Neither Ukraine nor Czech Republic made it past the qualification stage for the EHF EURO 2016, with Ukraine last contesting the final tournament in 2010 while Czech Republic’s most recent qualification for the EURO was in 2014.

GROUP 5
Slovenia vs Germany, Wednesday 3 May, 20:00 local time (live on ehfTV)

The match between the World Championship 2017 bronze medallists and the EHF EURO 2016 champions is one of the most highly anticipated of qualification Round 3.

As the defending champions, the spotlight has been on Germany from the first round, while Slovenia have gained more attention following a year of impressive results including a strong Olympic campaign and their first ever World Championship medal.

The teams meet now for the first official match since the 2016 Olympic Games Group Phase, when Germany won 28:25 before going on to claim the bronze medal.

Fans in Ljubljana and at the return leg three days later in Halle can expect a thrilling match between two in-form sides and some of the VELUX EHF Champions League’s biggest stars, including two of the top three scorers in Europe’s premier club competition – Germany left wing Uwe Gensheimer, who tallies 106 goals for the season, and Slovenia right back Jure Dolenec, who is second with 88.

Wednesday’s match also marks the official debut of Germany’s new coach Christian Prokop.

“We want to win both matches against Slovenia, which is a high hurdle against a strong opponent. Thus, we have to focus on our strengths and team spirit,” says the 38-year-old coach.

“Coach Veselin Vujovic has implemented great development in this young team. Slovenia played a strong role in France, their players are skilled and famous for their fighting spirit – as I said: Slovenia are a true challenge.”

Photo: Sascha Klahn / DHB


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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