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13.06.2017, 08:41
Pressure on for World Championship 2017 silver and bronze medallists
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ROUND PREVIEW 2: Slovenia and Norway face must-win situations on Wednesday as they currently sit third in their respective EHF EURO 2018 Qualification groups
 

Pressure on for World Championship 2017 silver and bronze medallists

With two rounds of EHF EURO 2018 Qualification remaining, very little has been decided as Groups 5, 6 and 7 include only two teams that have booked their place at the final tournament.

Defending champions Germany and Sweden are the sole squads in Groups 5 and 6 assured of their tickets to Croatia before the last qualification matches, while the remaining berths will be decided by Wednesday’s results and the last matches of the phase on the coming weekend.

In Group 7, France, Norway and Lithuania remain in the race for the final tournament – but no team has booked their place at the EHF EURO 2018 yet.

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 5
Portugal vs Germany, Wednesday 14 June, 19:30 local time

EHF EURO 2016 champions Germany booked their place in Croatia with two clear wins in the May double header against World Championship 2017 bronze medallists Slovenia. Germany won the away match in Ljubljana 23:32, which proved to be a dream debut for new head coach Christian Prokop, before defeating Slovenia 25:20 at home.

For the defending champions the only motivation remaining is to gain as many points as possible and keep their place at the top of the group table, while Portugal still have everything on the line.

Portugal currently have five points and rank second behind Germany on eight, while Slovenia tally three. The other team in the group, Switzerland, are out of the running, which means the second ticket will be decided between Portugal and Slovenia.

If Portugal can pull off a win against Germany and Slovenia lose to Switzerland, Portugal will claim the place in Croatia, but given the Olympic bronze medallists strength it seems more likely that all will be decided in the head-to-head clash between Portugal and Slovenia in Round 6.

“Germany are a world-class team and always have the ability to be at the very top at a major competition,” says Portugal right back Jorge Silva.

“It won’t be easy to surpass their defence, but I think we have the ability to find solutions for that. I also believe that playing at home will be decisive to gain points in this really important game.”

Switzerland vs Slovenia, Wednesday 14 June, 20:15 local time

With zero points in their account, Switzerland no longer have a chance of qualifying for the EHF EURO 2018, but they will undoubtedly be determined to put on a good show at home nevertheless.

Whether that determination will be enough to defeat the France 2017 bronze medallists is another question, especially as Slovenia have everything to play for.

“We all know how important the games are. I cannot imagine missing the final tournament in Croatia after the historic success in January. We are focused and determined to win both matches,” says Matej Gaber, returning to the Slovenia team after recovering from injury.

Slovenia won the Round 1 match against Switzerland 32:27, and have recorded victories in four out of six head-to-head encounters between these sides. Switzerland have won once and the teams played a 34:34 draw in 2002.

GROUP 6
Montenegro vs Sweden, Wednesday 14 June, 20:00 local time

While Sweden are already qualified with eight points from four wins, Montenegro have four points and sit in second – which means they are in a strong position ahead of the last qualification matches, but their job is far from done.

Recent VELUX EHF Champions League winner and second top scorer of the qualification, Vuko Borozan, believes Montenegro have a chance to beat Sweden, which will secure their place in Croatia on Wednesday night.

“We can and we must defeat Sweden. It will be difficult but we have the quality,” says Borozan. “We just have to believe. As you can see, there are no more impossible things. I believe we will celebrate with the fans in Niksic on June 14.”

But Borozan’s national coach, Dragan Djukic, is sure that Sweden will present a tough challenge for his side:

“We do not expect an easier job with Sweden, regardless of the fact that they are already qualified for the EHF EURO. Depending on the result of Round 5, we will know whether the last game against Russia will be decisive or if everything is decided before.”

Sweden won the first qualification match against Montenegro 36:21, and celebrated victory in six of the seven encounters prior to that.

Slovakia vs Russia, Wednesday 14 June, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV

Both teams enter the Round 5 match with two points thanks to two draws – one against each other in the qualification opener last November, and one each versus Montenegro.

Slovakia and Russia are therefore the outsiders to claim the group’s remaining place at the final tournament, but also have every opportunity to pass Montenegro on the table ranking with two wins in the two matches.

Russia appear to have a better chance than Slovakia of pulling off a miracle in the final two rounds of EHF EURO 2018 Qualification, as after travelling to Bratislava they will host Montenegro while Slovakia visit Sweden in Round 6.

Wednesday’s match in Bratislava is expected to break the spectator record in Slovakia, with the evening in Zimny stadion Ondreja Nepelu hosting the second World Championship 2017 Play-off between Hungary and the women’s national side, before the men take centre stage.

GROUP 7
Lithuania vs France, Wednesday 14 June, 19:00 local time

The standings in Group 7 are somewhat unexpected. World Championship 2017 gold medallists and Olympic runners-up France have not yet qualified for the final tournament in Croatia, as they currently sit on six points alongside Lithuania, while Norway are third ahead of outsiders Belgium.

Lithuania’s six points come from one victory against World Championship 2017 silver medallists Norway in Round 2, and two wins in the May double header against Belgium.

France have beaten both Lithuania and Belgium once, and claimed one victory against Norway while being defeated in the other of their two matches against the Scandinavian side.

“The home match against France will mainly be a matter of will, passion, belief and determination,” says Lithuania assistant coach and former goalkeeper Almantas Savonis, while head coach Arturas Juskenas believes his team can overcome the world champions:

“I even believe that we have a chance to beat world champions France on home ground, as I guess my players had the opportunity to recover [from the club season] more than the French ones.”

Belgium vs Norway, Wednesday 14 June, 20:30 local time

Belgium do not have a chance of qualifying for the EHF EURO 2018, while World Championship 2017 runners-up Norway are under pressure with four points in their account, placing them two points behind both France and Lithuania.

On paper, it would seem Norway should have little trouble securing two victories in their final qualification matches – first against Belgium, then aiming to avenge their Round 2 loss versus Lithuania – and booking the spot in Croatia, but coach Christian Berge is wary.

“You might say that Belgium is an easy task, but you have to bear in mind that they only lost by one goal at home against France, and even through a goal in the last seconds,” says Berge.

“Furthermore, they are a team who plays seven-against-six all the time, and this will present a new challenge to our defence.”

Norway won the first encounter with Belgium in Round 1 by nine goals at 35:26, but as they play away on Wednesday the match may not be so one-sided. The overall head-to-head balance stands at 10 victories for Norway, and two for Belgium.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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