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08.06.2017, 15:30
The long road to France begins
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PREVIEW: Six teams start on the long path to the Women´s EHF EURO 2018 this weekend. Only two of them will progress out of the first qualification phase
 

The long road to France begins

The battle to qualify for next year's Women's EHF EURO in France starts this coming weekend, as the Qualification Phase 1 commences.

Divided into two groups, six teams will be aiming to grab the two available tickets for the next phase of the qualification tournament.

Athens will host the Group A games, as Greece, Finland and the Faroe Islands battle it out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Kosovo will be hosting Group B in Gjakove, where Israel and Georgia will be the two other participants.

The winner of Group A will join Sweden, Serbia and FYR Macedonia in Group 3 of Qualification Phase 2, while number one in Group B will have the company of the Netherlands, Hungary and Belarus in Group 7.

The Greek federation streams all matches of the Group A tournament on its website.

For all matches the EHF live ticker is available.

Group A – Greece happy to be back

For the first time in four years, Greece are back in the EHF EURO qualifiers. Despite being hosts and thus having home advantage, national coach Menelaos Danilos is cautious ahead of the coming weekend.

“Our national team is in a renewal process, and our greatest goal is to create a competitive team with its own identity.

“We feel properly prepared, but we are aware of the dynamics of our opponents. I strongly believe that our performance should be on a high level in order to qualify for the next phase,” says Danilos.

The opening match of Group A in Athens will be between the hosts and Finland, with the Finland coach, former right wing of the Swedish national team Tommy Suoraniemi, a bit unsure of his team's form.

“It is a bit hard to give an estimate of our chances, as we have not played any competitive matches lately. Also, we do not know much about our opponents.

“However, from the information we have been able to obtain, I expect some close matches. I do believe in our chances of proceeding,” explains Suoraniemi.

Faroe Islands will play their first match on Saturday, and just like Finland they are being coached by a former right wing – in their case Briton Scott Harrington.

He sees this group as the strongest of the two qualification groups, and he finds encouragement in the ongoing development in handball on the islands.

“Faroe Islands handball has progressed enormously in recent years through the great work being done throughout the country.

“That said, though, I do not want to predict the outcome of our two matches. We are going to Greece with an objective to compete against both nations and to gain more international experience, from which we can benefit in the future,” says Harrington.

Match schedule

Greece v Finland - Friday 9 June. 19:00 local time
Faroe Islands v Greece - Saturday 10 June, 19:00 local time
Finland v Faroe Islands - Sunday 11 June, 15:00 local time

Group B – Kosovo hope to benefit from home advantage

For the second time in history, Kosovo are in a qualification tournament for an EHF EURO, and it will be the first time they have hosted the event.

Coach Florent Beqiri hopes home advantage will power his side through, but sees Israel as his team´s strongest rival in the group.

“This is only the second time we are participating in the European Championship qualification, and just like at the event two years ago we have been drawn to the same group as Israel.

“I regard Israel as the favourite to go through. In our match against them two years ago we were leading for most of the game, only to lose in the last five minutes.

“We hope that this time our supporters will make the difference to make us go through,” says Beqiri.

Israel´s new coach Idan Aharonovitch does not exactly disagree with Beqiri´s judgment, and is confident ahead of the weekend.

“We have seen videos of both our opponents, so I think we know quite well what to expect.

“I think all teams are rather equal, but obviously our aim is to finish in first position and proceed to the next phase,” the Israeli coach says.

The third team in the group are Georgia. They will be playing the opening match against Israel, and are in a EURO qualification tournament for the first time since 1994, when they lost all their matches in a group with Hungary, Norway, Slovenia and Lithuania.

Georgia´s latest international achievement has been reaching the final of the Women's Trophy 2016.

Match schedule

Georgia v Israel - Friday 09 June. 18:00 local time
Kosovo v Georgia - Saturday 10 June, 18:00 local time
Israel v Kosovo - Sunday 11 June, 17:00 local time


TEXT: Peter Bruun / ap / ts
 
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