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01.05.2017, 23:51
France and Norway prepare for rematch
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ROUND PREVIEW 2: France and Norway meet for an EHF EURO 2018 Qualification double header three months after playing the World Championship Final, while Russia take on Sweden’s young guns without their captain
 

France and Norway prepare for rematch

It’s crunch time in EHF EURO 2018 Qualification Groups 6 and 7 as both Slovakia and Montenegro look to add points after surprising Russia, Lithuania approach their double header against Belgium with caution, and France get ready for two major retirements.

Both Norway and Russia are in tough spots with two points after the first two matches, and face must-win situations in the hope of being in the best position possible come the last qualification rounds in June.

GROUP 6
Slovakia vs Montenegro, Wednesday 3 May, 18:30 local time

Slovakia and Montenegro enter Wednesday’s match with one point each, from one draw and one loss. Both drew with Russia – 31:31 for Slovakia, 24:24 for Montenegro, and lost to Sweden.

Montenegro’s defeat against Sweden was more ominous than Slovakia’s, as they lost by 15 goals at 21:36, while Slovakia can take comfort in the fact that they kept the increasingly-dangerous Scandinavian side to 21 goals (17:21).

Slovakia are motivated to qualify for their first EHF EURO since 2012, while Montenegro hope to return after finishing 16th at the most recent edition in Poland.

“The following matches against Montenegro will set the tone for the rest of the campaign. We cannot rely on Montenegro missing some of their players,” said Slovakia left wing Martin Stranovsky. “We must beat them. Our dream is to end the long wait and qualify for the EURO.”

Russia vs Sweden, Wednesday 3 May, 19:15 local time

On paper, it would seem Russia and Sweden should sit together on top of the Group 6 table ahead of their double header, but Russia had a rocky start to their EHF EURO 2018 Qualification campaign.

Russia made it as far as the round of 16 at the most recent major international event, the World Championship 2017, only a few months after recording unexpected draws in their opening EURO Qualification matches – against Slovakia at home then away versus Montenegro.

Sweden also made an impression at the World Championship in France, qualifying for the quarter-finals under the guidance of head coach Kristjan Andresson.

Andresson’s squad was the youngest on average at France 2017, and their success at the World Championship is therefore indicative of a promising future to come.

“I see those two matches as the two key matches in our group. However, as Russia drew in their first two matches, while we won our two first games, I think the pressure is on the Russians,” says Sweden left wing Jonas Källman, who praises Andresson for Sweden’s recent success.

“He gives a lot of fresh inspiration and positive thinking to the players.”

Russia’s reliable left wing and captain Timur Dibirov is taking a break from the national team, and will therefore not be on court for the crucial clashes against Sweden.

GROUP 7
Norway vs France, Wednesday 3 May, 18:30 local time (live on ehfTV and the EHF EURO Facebook page)

The stage is set for two momentous matches in Norway and France this week, as not only are the two games rematches of the World Championship 2017 Final, but they mark the final national team appearances of two French stalwarts.

The news that former World Handball Players of the Year Thierry Omeyer (2008) and Daniel Narcisse (2012) would retire from the national team following the qualification double header against Norway broke only a few weeks ago.

While there is an impressive list of young talents waiting on the edge of the court to step into their places, there will certainly be some extra motivation for France to help their heroes end their international careers on a high.

Michael Guigou was side lined due to injury mere days before the first clash in Oslo, and will be replaced by 2015 Youth world champion Melvyn Richardson, son of yet another French handball legend – Jackson Richardson.

“They are a team which has been causing us some trouble for a couple of years now, and the last final we played against them was far from a walk in the park,” says one half of France’s coaching duo, Didier Dinart, about Norway.

Norway captain Bjarte Myrhol knows his team are under pressure, but agrees with Dinart that they are capable of causing an upset: “It is absolutely right that we are under pressure. However, we simply must qualify for the EURO, and I am sure we will.

“At least one win against France will be a tremendous help for us to reach that goal and, in fact, I believe we can beat France.”

Belgium vs Lithuania, Wednesday 3 May, 20:30 local time

Both Belgium and Lithuania started their qualification campaigns with defeats at the hands of France and Norway – before Lithuania caused one of the biggest upsets of the EHF EURO 2018 Qualification so far.

Lithuania defeated Norway 32:29 only months before the Scandinavian team won the World Championship 2017 silver medal, and are therefore level with Norway on two points behind France on four.

Entering the main qualification round from qualification phase one, Belgium are underdogs in the group – but Lithuania coach Arturas Juskenas is well aware of the danger their opponents pose:

“Belgium were close to beating France on home ground and unluckily lost 37:38. We must be at 100 per cent to take the points.”


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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