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07.06.2018, 20:24
Nine final World Championship 2019 tickets up for grabs
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FIRST LEG PREVIEW: 18 European countries are still hopeful to qualify for the Men's World Championship 2019 via the play-offs, with the first round of matches to be played over the next three days
 

Nine final World Championship 2019 tickets up for grabs

Boarding for the Men's World Championship 2019 in Denmark and Germany will be completed over the next week. While the first-leg matches take place from Friday to Sunday, the return encounters are scheduled between Tuesday and Thursday.

In the European qualification, nine play-off ties decide the final European teams to be in the pots for the final tournament draw at Copenhagen's City Hall on 25 June.

For all matches the EHF live ticker is available.

Lithuania vs Iceland, Friday 8 June, 19:00 local time

The play-offs throw off on Friday evening in Vilnius' Siemens Arena Lithuania face Iceland. The hosts have not been spoiled with participations in major championships over the past years.

The Baltic nation has only been at one World Championship, back in 1997, one year before the country qualified for its only EHF EURO to date. This time, Lithuania reached the play-offs through winning their qualification phase 1 group ahead of Georgia and Israel.

For Iceland, exiting EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia already after the group phase has been humiliating.

In the meantime, however, Gudmundur Gudmundsson has taken over as national coach for the third time, and even though the coach, who won Olympic gold with Denmark in Rio 2016, is working on a long-term project, qualifying for the World Championship is still a must for Iceland.

Czech Republic vs Russia, Friday 8 June, 20:00 local time

Both countries missed out on the World Championship 2017 in France, but while Russia also failed to qualify for the EHF EURO 2018 in January, the Czech Republic did not only qualify – they also played a great tournament and finished sixth.

This achievement meant that the team qualified directly for the play-offs, while Russia had to go through qualification phase 1, where their road to the play-offs went past Slovakia, Finland and Luxembourg.

After the first leg on Friday night in Plzen, we may get an indication which of the two countries will miss its second consecutive World Championship.

Netherlands vs Sweden, Saturday 9 June, 16:00 local time

Sweden won a surprising silver medal at the EHF EURO 2018, but this feat does not free the team under national coach Kristjan Andresson from going through the play-offs in their effort to reach the World Championship, which they last won in 1997.

Their opponents will be the Netherlands, a team that still waits for their first ticket to a major championship. Without doubt it would be a surprise, if not even a sensation, if the Dutch team manages to overcome the Swedes over two matches.

In 's-Hertogenbosch on Saturday afternoon, the Netherlands will have their first meeting with the Scandinavian favourites.

Norway vs Switzerland, Saturday 9 June, 19:15 local time

Despite winning the silver medal at the World Championship 2017, Norway still have to qualify for the next world event. Their opponents in the play-offs are Switzerland, who visit Stavanger's DNB Arena for the first leg on Saturday evening.

Norway's national coach Christian Berge has his strongest line-up at his disposal, and he made sure his team is ready for the task by wining a friendly against Germany in Munich on Wednesday, 30:25.

Switzerland welcome back their biggest star, Rhein-Neckar Löwen playmaker Andy Schmid back, and the Swiss even have a VELUX EHF Champions League winner in their ranks: goalkeeper Nikola Portner from Montpellier HB.

Norway will be well advised to prepare for Switzerland's seven-against-six attack, which they practiced a lot – despite an eventual 29:22 defeat – in their test match way against Denmark on Tuesday.

Slovenia vs Hungary, Saturday 9 June, 20:00 local time

Slovenia played a good EHF EURO 2018, even though their efforts were eventually not enough to reach the semi-finals in Croatia. They did better though at the World Championship 2017, when they won bronze in France in January 2017.

To replicate this feat, they will have to qualify first. The hurdle they will have to clear is Hungary who bowed out already after the group phase at the EHF EURO 2018.

So far, this has not been the most successful for Hungary's national coach Ljubomir Vranjes.

Besides the disappointment with the national team back in January, his club team, Telekom Veszprém, was eliminated by Danish side Skjern Handbold in the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League. In late May Veszprém then lost the final of the Hungarian championship to arch rivals MOL-Pick Szeged.

Over the coming week, Vranjes and Hungary will be trying to take revenge and qualify for the World Championship. The first meeting takes place in Koper on Saturday night.

Croatia vs Montenegro, Saturday 9 June, 20:00 local time

Finishing fifth at EHF EURO 2018 on home court was not quite what Croatia had in mind after the ended up being fourth at least at the World Championship in France in January 2019.

In their play-off ties against Montenegro, Croatia have to replace THW Kiel playmaker Domagoj Duvnjak, whom they also missed for the better part of the EHF EURO because of an injury.

On the positive side, Croatia can welcome Ivan Sliskovic back into the team. The left back from Celje has been out since the 2016 Rio Olympics after suffering from mononucleosis.

Montenegro tested their form in a friendly at home against South Korea on Wednesday. However, it was not the best possible dress rehearsal for the Montenegrins who lost 30:29.

Belarus vs Austria, Sunday 10 June, 17:00 local time

Apart from deciding about World Championship ticket, this meeting will also be the revenge match for the opening game in Group B at the EHF EURO in Croatia.

On that occasion, Belarus, who eventually made it to the main round, won 27:26 against Austria, who had to go home after the preliminary round.

Now, the Austrian team is keen on taking revenge. “The chances against Belarus are 50:50. It will be decisive how smart we play and how focused our minds are,” said Austria's national coach Patrekur Johannesson.

Serbia vs Portugal, Sunday 10 June, 18:00 local time

Serbia have not qualified for a World Championship since the 2013 tournament in Spain, but the fact they reached the main round at EHF EURO 2018 in January has boosted their belief in making it this time.

What may further work in their favour is that Portugal have not been at a Word Championship since 2003, when they hosted the event.

Portugal overcame Cyprus and Kosovo in group 4 of qualification phase 1 to make it to the play-offs. Serbia qualified directly courtesy of their main round berth at Croatia 2018.

The first meeting between the two nations takes place in the Sport Hall 'Cair' of Nis, where Serbia's male as well as female national teams have celebrated several triumphs in the past.

FYR Macedonia vs Romania, Sunday 10 June, 20:30 local time

Macedonia and Romania have the honour of closing the first round of play-offs with their late Sunday match in the Boris Trajkovski Arena in Skopje.

The Macedonians made it to the Last 16 at the World Championship 2017 in France, and they have been regular participants at EHF EURO events since 2012.

At EHF EURO 2018, FYR Macedonia topped their preliminary group, but they ran out of steam in the main round and eventually only finished 11th.

Now, they have to show if they have sufficient resources to eliminate Romania who have not been at a World Championship since 2011 in Sweden. Their latest EHF EURO berth even dates back as far as 1996.

Romania enjoyed a good start to qualifiers for EHF EURO 2018, but their engine stuttered towards the end of the qualification. They cannot afford this to happen again against FYR Macedonia, if they want to play in Denmark and Germany next January.


TEXT: Peter Bruun / ew / ts
 
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