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13.06.2017, 08:15
Last chance to book tickets to Croatia
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ROUND PREVIEW 1: The final two rounds of EHF EURO 2018 Qualification begin on Wednesday, with 12 places still to be decided – and almost anything is possible
 

Last chance to book tickets to Croatia

The final race to the EHF EURO 2018 is about to begin, with 12 tickets to the final tournament still to be decided in Rounds 5 and 6.

When Round 5 begins on Wednesday, Denmark and Serbia both have the chance to secure their berths at the event in Croatia.

With very few squads ruled out completely, most of the teams taking to the court on Wednesday rely on wins in this round to keep their chances alive ahead of the final qualification matches on Saturday and Sunday.

As a bonus for Europe's handball fans, ehfTV will stream three matches live. Czech Republic vs Iceland and Slovakia vs Russia on Wednesday as well as Romania vs Belarus on Thursday.

The latter match will be also be live on the EHF EURO Facebook page.

GROUP 1
Netherlands vs Denmark, Wednesday 14 June, 19:30 local time

The Netherlands have a chance to book a ticket to their first ever major international men’s tournament in the final two rounds of EHF EURO 2018 Qualification. With four points in their account from two wins against Latvia in May, the Dutch currently rank third behind Hungary on five and 2016 Olympic champions Denmark on seven.

Denmark won the first encounter last November 29:20, so the Netherlands know the chance of defeating them is slim – but they do have the home advantage, which helped them contain Hungary to a final score of 27:28 when they met in Round 2.

“Who knows? Maybe they have an off day and we play the game of our lives,” right back Joris Baart told the official NHV website. “Maybe they play with their second team to give players rest. But they are no bunglers, either, and they would probably be even more motivated.”

Just as Baart predicted, new Denmark coach Nikolaj Jacobsen has chosen to rest several of his star players: goalkeeper Niklas Landin, left back Mikkel Hansen, right back Kasper Søndergaard, wings Lasse Svan and Anders Eggert, and line player brothers Rene and Henrik Toft Hansen.

Denmark need just one point to secure their place in Croatia, which means a draw in Almere will be enough for the Scandinavian team.

GROUP 2
Serbia vs Poland, Wednesday 14 June, 20:45 local time

After an unexpectedly rocky campaign that has seen the World Championship 2013 bronze medallists and 2016 Olympic semi-finalists accumulate only one point so far, Poland are at the bottom of the group and are looking at the very real possibility of missing the final tournament.

Following the 27:27 draw in Round 4 against Belarus, coach Talant Dujshebaev resigned and has since been replaced by head coach of VELUX EHF Champions League side Orlen Wisla Plock, Piotr Przybecki. Przybecki will have his official match debut as coach of Poland on Wednesday.  

Serbia currently top the table with six points thanks to three wins – 32:37 away versus Poland, and 22:23 away then 27:22 at home against Romania.

Serbia are therefore in an excellent position to book their place at the EHF EURO 2018 when they meet Poland in Nis on Wednesday, which they can do with a victory.

GROUP 3
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Spain, Wednesday 14 June, 18:00 local time

Spain enter the Round 4 match on the back of four wins, which means they are already safely through to the final tournament in Croatia with the maximum number of points possible ahead of the last two rounds of qualification.

Bosnia-Herzegovina are their closest rivals in the group with four points won from two victories against Finland in the May double header. They are therefore far from safe, and it is likely their fate will be decided against Austria in the last round of qualification – unless they have some help from Finland later on Wednesday evening.

"We will prepare for anything that may come, and we will go all out to defeat Spain in front of our own fans,” says Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Bilal Suman. “However, we are also hoping for Finland to defeat Austria, which will see us qualify regardless of the two remaining matches.”

Wednesday’s match will be the first ever meeting between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Spain.

Finland vs Austria, Wednesday 14 June, 18:30 local time

Finland opened EHF EURO 2018 Qualification with a shock away 27:31 win against Austria, and now hope to record another victory with the help of the home crowd in Vantaa.

With two points from that win, after which they recorded only losses in the qualification phase, Finland can theoretically still make it to the final tournament if they win their two remaining matches and Bosnia-Herzegovina do not.

But Austria also remain in the race for a EURO ticket, and will undoubtedly be determined not to see a repeat of the surprise loss in Round 1. History is in favour of the visitors, as they have won a total of 15 matches out of 18 encounters.

Austria coach Patrekur Johannesson appears to view the Round 1 defeat as a one-off, and expects the second ticket to Croatia for this group to be decided against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Round 6, but he knows they cannot underestimate Finland again:

“First, we need to win in Finland, to have our own fate in our hands. And the Finnish side proved their home strength by nearly beating the Bosnians.”

GROUP 4
Czech Republic vs Iceland, Wednesday 14 June, 18:10 local time, live on ehfTV

Group 4 currently sees four teams level on four points, which means everything will be decided in the last two rounds of the qualification phase. All matches so far have been won by the home team, so it is Czech Republic that can look forward to some advantage if previous results are anything to go by.

However, Iceland hope they are not and travel to Brno aiming to record the first away victory seen in this group so far.

“Although they are a great team, we won against them last time and can do it again. All the games have been won at home but now it is our goal to win in the Czech Republic and to bring those two points back home,” says Iceland goalkeeper Björgvin Pall Gustavsson.

The first qualification match between these sides was decided in the last minute, when Iceland won 25:24 in Round 1.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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