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14.06.2017, 20:30
France secure ticket to Croatia while Austria claim vital points
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ROUND REVIEW 1: EHF EURO 2018 Qualification Round 5 begins with a nervous one-goal win for France, a crucial two points for Austria, and yet another home victory in Group 4.
 

France secure ticket to Croatia while Austria claim vital points

EHF EURO 2018 Qualification Round 5 opened with Austria recording their second win of the phase, against Finland, which moved them up to four points on the Group 3 table alongside Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnia-Herzegovina lost their match to Spain, which means Group 3’s second place at the final tournament will be decided between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria in Round 6.

Group 4’s trend of home wins continued in Brno as Czech Republic beat Iceland after controlling the match from start to finish. Meanwhile in Group 7 Lithuania gave the 2017 world champions a shock as their match was decided in France’s favour as late as the 59th minute.

GROUP 3
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Spain 19:25 (11:14)

Though they took to the court for their Round 5 match as one of the few unbeaten and already qualified sides in EHF EURO 2018 Qualification, Spain could not afford to relax their approach with the table ranking at stake.

After coach Jordi Ribera left EHF EURO 2016 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Raul Entrerrios out of the squad in favour of gaining experience for his younger players during Round 3 and 4, Entrerrios returned to the team and was the first on the score board for Spain.

Spain quickly took control, leading 6:4 at the 10-minute mark and 8:5 midway through the half. Bosnia-Herzegovina temporarily came back to equalise at 8:8 off a goal from Srdjan Predragovic, before Spain reclaimed the three-goal advantage and held it at half-time.

The hosts could not shake that three-goal score line until Predragovic’s second goal closed the gap to 15:17 as the last 15 minutes began – but that was as close as they would come. Through the last quarter of the game Spain increased the difference once more, and this time it stuck as they held a six-goal advantage at the final whistle.

Spain now tally 10 points and lead the Group 3 table by a significant margin. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria are their nearest opponents on four points each.

Finland vs Austria 36:39 (15:21)

The match began with both sides equal on two points, and therefore on level footing in the race to claim the group’s second ticket to the final tournament after Spain secured their berth in Round 4.

Following Finland’s shock 31:27 win against Austria in Wiener Neustadt in Round 1, the visitors were taking no chances in underestimating their opponents. Austria immediately took the lead with the opening goal of the game from Janko Bozovic, and by the time the clock showed 10 minutes had streaked ahead to a 9:5 difference.

A 4:1 run through the next five minutes allowed Finland to come within one at 9:10, but Austria did not let their hosts level and increased the distance to a clear six goals by half-time.

Finland had a challenge ahead of them when they stepped on the court for the second period, and though they slowly decreased the score line, the home team could not come closer than four goals.

As the last 10 minutes began Austria were still comfortably in front with a six-goal advantage, before Finland staged a late run of goals that put them within reach at 32:36. But as the next goals came from Vytautas Ziura then Wilhelm Jelinek, Austria reclaimed the six-goal lead and with that decided the match.

GROUP 4
Czech Republic vs Iceland 27:24 (14:9)

Iceland took to the court in Brno amid a sea of red Czech Republic jerseys, and their hosts used the considerable support from the crowd to take control immediately.

Czech Republic held a one-goal edge through the first 10 minutes to lead 4:3 at that point, before goals from Jan Stehlik and Petr Slachta pulled the home team in front to 7:4.

Tomas Babak opened a four-goal advantage for Czech Republic at 8:4 in the 19th minute, and the hosts held on to their decisive lead, increasing it to five before the half-time buzzer.

Iceland returned for the second half with fresh motivation and played a level first 10 minutes including three goals for captain Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson during that period, taking his tally to seven by the 40-minute mark. But Czech Republic were well in control and as the clock ticked toward the end of the match Iceland struggled to decrease the score line.

Finally in the last 10 minutes the visitors came within one goal of their opponents more than once, giving themselves the opportunity to level the score in the 55th minute then again when Sigurdsson’s ninth goal put the score at 24:23.

However Czech Republic always responded, and when Babak scored the last goal of the match and his individual eighth with less than 40 seconds left, it was clear the two points would stay with the hosts yet again.

GROUP 7
Lithuania vs France 25:26 (12:12)

Though Lithuania entered the court on level terms with France, as both sides counted six points from three wins in their tally, the home team were not expected to challenge the current world champions quite as much as they did.

Playing their first matches since the retirement of long-time stalwarts Thierry Omeyer and Daniel Narcisse, and missing injured Vincent Gerard and World Championship 2017 MVP Nikola Karabatic, France were still confident of a victory in Klaipeda that would book their place at the final tournament in Croatia.

The Olympic silver medallists must have been unpleasantly surprised to see Lithuania taking an early lead, as they consistently held a one to two-goal advantage before Gerdas Barbarskas took the home side to 9:6 as the clock passed 20 minutes.

But, as France have done so often before, they allowed their opponents only a brief glimpse of hope before closing the score line. With two goals from Valentin Porte and one from Kentin Mahe, France turned 10:7 into a level game at 10:10 with just over five minutes left in the first half.

At the break the score remained equal, but in the second period France’s young stars including Dika Mem, Ludovic Fabregas and Mahe were key in helping the visitors create an 18:15 lead by the 40th minute.

Lithuania’s entire bench contributed a strong fight that took them within two at 20:22 inside the last 10 minutes, before they levelled the score in the 56th then again in the 58th at 25:25. However the goal from Aidenas Malasinskas would be the final one from the hosts, and Nicolas Claire was the last to hit the back of the net – pushing France in front by one with less than 90 seconds left on the clock.

France therefore moved up to eight points on the table and secured their berth at the EHF EURO 2018, where they will hope to win their fourth title.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / jh
 
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