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05.05.2017, 11:43
The race for Croatia 2018 heats up
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ROUND PREVIEW 2: EHF EURO 2018 Qualification Groups 6 and 7 remain open as only Sweden can book their place at the final tournament this weekend, leaving other teams to fight for points
 

The race for Croatia 2018 heats up

Sweden are the only team in Group 6 or 7 with the possibility of booking their place at the EHF EURO 2018 when qualification Round 4 throws off on Saturday night. The Scandinavian side sit alone at the top of the Group 6 table with six points from three wins, while their rivals Russia, Montenegro and Slovakia are all on two with everything still to be decided.

The contest in Group 7 reset on Wednesday night when Norway beat France, as now both World Championship 2017 finalists are on four points alongside Lithuania, who beat Belgium on Wednesday evening.

GROUP 6
Sweden vs Russia, Saturday 6 May, 17:15 local time

While Sweden enter the second encounter against Russia full of confidence after three straight wins, their opponents are beginning to feel some serious pressure.

Russia, who made it to the round of 16 at the World Championship 2017 less than four months ago, have yet to win a match in the qualification phase.

The team opened their campaign in November with two unexpected draws, against Slovakia and Montenegro, then lost to Sweden 21:29 in the most recent round on Wednesday night.

Russia are lucky that Montenegro and Slovakia played a draw in their encounter later that same evening, as it means all three sides remain on two points while Sweden are the lone group leaders on six.

Russia coach Dimitri Torgovanov said on the Russian Handball Federation’s official website that the match was lost at the start, as his team missed shots that should have been easy goals due largely to a blistering performance from Sweden keeper Mikael Appelgren.

"We tried to catch up, but some things are not excusable: we cannot afford to throw away chances in a game against Sweden, who play sensible, concise and very good handball,” concluded the coach, who also promised he has identified some weaknesses in the Scandinavian side’s game.

Russia have some crucial absences for the clashes with Sweden: Timur Dibirov, who is taking a break from the national team, and injured Pavel Atman and Dmitry Zhitnikov.

Montenegro vs Slovakia, Saturday 6 May, 20:00 local time

Slovakia led almost the entire encounter between these sides on Wednesday night in Hlohovec, before Montenegro levelled the score in the closing minutes and the match finished with Group 6’s third draw of the qualification phase, at 27:27.

Wednesday’s hosts are aiming for their first EHF EURO since 2012, and will certainly be unhappy to have let such an opportunity for crucial points on home ground slip away. Now Slovakia travel to Bijelo Polje, where Montenegro will have the upper hand.

Montenegro’s main weapon on Wednesday evening was Vardar back Vuko Borozan, who tallied 11 goals, and is now the second top scorer in EHF EURO 2018 Qualification behind FYR Macedonia’s Kiril Lazarov. Slovakia relied heavily on Tomas Urban, with nine goals.

Both teams are on two points after two draws and one loss to Sweden.

GROUP 7
France vs Norway, Saturday 6 May, 18:00 local time

The highly-anticipated World Championship 2017 Final rematch on Wednesday night saw Norway learn from their mistakes in January and claim a 35:30 victory against France in Oslo.

Norway’s 21-year-old centre back Sander Sagosen, who will make the move to France ahead of next season as he joins VELUX EHF FINAL4 2017 participants PSG Handball, did not hold anything back against many of his future club teammates, contributing an incredible 13 goals to top score the game.

Now there are three teams in Group 7 on four points: France, Norway and Lithuania, which means the race is on for the two tickets to the final tournament in Croatia.

“We have conceded 35 goals. It is clear that we lacked commitment at the defensive level – that's what made the difference,” said one half of France’s coaching duo, Didier Dinart, on the French Handball Federation website, with fellow coach Guillaume Gille adding:

“We allowed their fast game. Even though we scored on a regular basis in the second half, we allowed too many quick goals. We need to do the analysis to propose a more efficient game and win on Saturday, because with the result tonight, the race for the qualification is relaunched.”

France have additional motivation to win on Saturday night, as not only will it boost their chance to book a place in Croatia – which they had hoped to achieve in this double header against Norway – but it will be the final game in Les Experts’ jersey for former World Handball Players of the Year, Daniel Narcisse and Thierry Omeyer.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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