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17.06.2017, 23:07
Austria, Slovenia and Norway book EURO tickets
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ROUND REVIEW 2: Since Saturday night 13 of 16 spots for the EHF EURO 2018 are confirmed, as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Portugal and Lithuania fail in their qualification campaigns.
 

Austria, Slovenia and Norway book EURO tickets

It was crunch time on Saturday night, as three groups featured three direct duels to decide the participants for the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia: In the end, Austria, Slovenia and Norway clinched their berths for the final tournament.

While both World Championship 2017 medallists – Norway and Slovenia – took their crucial wins in style with double-figured final score lines, the Austrians had to break tough Bosnian resistance.

In Norway’s Group 7, France became group winners after their hard-earned victory against Belgium.

GROUP 3
Austria vs Bosnia Herzegovina 34:32 (17:17)

Eight goals from THW Kiel striker Nikola Bilyk and crucial saves by goalkeeper Kristian Pilipovic secured Austria their EURO ticket, which is the third after 2010 and 2014 for the team of head coach Patrekur Johannesson. The result means the unlucky Bosnians miss their debut at the European championships again.

For Austria, a draw would have been enough to make it to Croatia.

The first half was like a rollercoaster ride: First Austria were ahead 5:2, then lacked precision and pressure in attack, allowing the Bosnian side to turn the match around – and at the end of the first 30 minutes the result was level at 17:17.

At that point Bosnia-Herzegovina had already received six suspensions, mainly in the final stages of the first half. With a one-man-advantage several times, Austria managed to level the intermediate three-goal deficit.

At first, the hosts could not stop Srdjan Predragovic and Marko Panic, who scored nearly half of the Bosnian goals in the first period.

With Panic (the top scorer for the visitors with seven goals) still on fire, Bosnia-Herzegovina were dominant in the first 15 minutes of the second half, though their biggest advantage was by only two goals.

But boosted by more than 3,500 fans in Vienna and the saves of Pilipovic, Austria struck back, taking the lead again in minute 45 – and even adding two more goals for their first lead of three after the 5:2, at 28:25.

Bosnia-Herzegovina had lost their rhythm, though their goalkeeper Nebojsa Grahovac still stood like a rock.
Between minute 40 and 49, the only Bosnian goal resulted from a penalty shot, while Austria forged ahead to a decisive 31:26 after goals from Vytautas Ziura and Gerald Zeiner with 11 minutes to go.

Though the visitors scored two goals within 40 seconds, the time was ticking against them – and they had to play the last nine minutes without their defence specialist Senjanin Buric after his disqualification following three suspensions.

Finally, Bilyk’s eighth goal for the 33:28 paved the way for Austria to Croatia.

GROUP 5
Slovenia vs Portugal 28:18 (12:9)

Thanks to a brilliant defensive performance, Slovenia passed Portugal on the table ranking to make it to their ninth ever EHF EURO final tournament.

The key to success for the EHF EURO 2004 silver medallists was allowing the visitors, for whom a draw would have been enough to qualify, only five goals in the first 20 minutes of the second half.

Until 8:8 in minute 20, the lead changed hands constantly before the hosts took the upper hand and extended the gap to 12:9 at the half-time buzzer.

Portugal stood strong prior to that decisive moment, as they did in the unlucky 26:29 defeat against Germany on Wednesday and in the 26:26 draw in the first leg against the World Championship 2017 bronze medallists. Slovenia could not play with their regular speed and rhythm, but counted on wing goals from Gasper Marguc.

But then a 7:2 series in the first 11 minutes of the second half for 19:11, when top stars such as Blaz Janc, Jure Dolenec and Marko Bezjak had entered the court, broke the Portuguese resistance.

In the end, nearly all Slovenia’s court players made their way onto the scorer list, which was topped by Bezjak, Marguc and Dolenec with four goals each.

By losing both crucial encounters in qualification Rounds 5 and 6 against Germany and Slovenia, Portugal lost a great chance to make it to their first EURO tournament since 2006.

GROUP 7
Norway vs Lithuania 30:20 (15:10)

Like Portugal, Lithuania must wait at least two more years to attempt to end their unsuccessful series of EHF EURO Qualification, while Norway made the last step towards their ninth participation at a final tournament in style.

Before this duel, both teams were equal on six points, and a draw would have been enough for the Baltic side to make it to Croatia – but Norway stood strong and booked their ticket to the EHF EURO 2018 easily in a one-sided match. At the final tournament, coach Christian Berge’s team hope for their first ever EURO medal after finishing in the unlucky fourth position in Poland in 2016.

After the level score of 6:6, Norway constantly increased the gap to a five-goal distance at the break. The key was a strong team performance, as 10 players were already on the scorer list after 30 minutes.

And the Scandinavians only needed 10 more minutes to seal the deal, extending the gap to 21:13. Even an early time-out from Lithuanian coach Arturas Juskenas did not stop the downswing.

After beating Norway 32:29 in the first leg, the visitors were far away from another surprise in Oslo, though Montpellier’s Jonas Truchanovicius put on another strong performance by netting five times alongside Aidenas Malasinskas.

Steered by their mastermind Sander Sagosen, who (like line player Bjarte Myrhol) tallied five goals in his last international match for Norway before his transfer to PSG, the hosts had full control of the game. Three minutes before the end, the distance was double-figured for the first time at 28:18.

France-Belgium_Accambray_565

France vs Belgium 32:28 (18:14)

Like in the first leg of this ‘David and Goliath’ duel (38:37), Belgium proved a really tough nut for France to crack. The visitors were ahead until the score of 13:12, before the world champions turned the tide by scoring a 6:2 series prior to the break.

The most impressive player in the first half was William Accambray, who scored seven times from nine attempts and finished with eight goals.

Without top stars such as the Karabatic brothers and Luc Abalo, who started their holidays earlier, France became a little bit more dominant in the second half – though they made an unexpectedly high number of technical mistakes and missed shots in attack.

The Belgian team gave all they could, but it was – as expected – not enough against the French side. Their top scorers were Jeroen De Beule, Simon Ooms and Damian Kedziora with six goals each.

The five-time world champions and 2006, 2010 and 2014 European champions France ended quite a shaky, though successful qualification period with their fifth win in their sixth match (after losing only in Norway) and again belong to the favourites for the title in Croatia.
 


TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg
 
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