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19.10.2018, 11:37
France flourishing at the top of EHF EURO 2020 Power Ranking
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POWER RANKING: 10 of the leading EHF EURO 2020 contenders are ranked ahead of their opening qualification clashes on 24-28 October
 

France flourishing at the top of EHF EURO 2020 Power Ranking

When 32 nations enter the Men’s EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers next week, there will be prevailing sense of hope among the participants, with 20 places in the final tournament up for grabs.

For some, however, the expansion of the competition to 24 teams equals pure expectation of qualification, but the ever-bridging gap in quality means some of the big boys could be in for a shock in this campaign.

This pre-Round 1 Power Ranking looks at which 10 teams look in best shape to get their qualification campaign off to a perfect start next week and take a big step towards Sweden, Austria and Norway.

10. Czech Republic

Another darling of January’s championship, who went on to fall in June, Czech Republic will need to bounce back immediately in a tricky qualification group with Belarus, Bosnia Herzegovina and Finland. A big boost for the Czechs is that both of their star players in January have since earned moved to VELUX EHF Champions League – championship top scorer Ondrej Zdrahala to Plock and Stanislav Kasparek to Szeged.

9. Slovenia

Inconsistency has become Slovenia’s major problem in recent times and the past year has been no different. After capturing the hearts of many neutral fans at EHF EURO 2018, they missed out on the World Championship after a disastrous home first leg against Hungary. However, optimism is in the air after winning the Men’s 20 EHF EURO on home court this summer and the tournament’s top scorer Grega Ocvirk has been rewarded with a senior call-up for the matches against Latvia and Estonia.

8. Hungary

Having emerged victorious from arguably the toughest play-off in June against Slovenia, Hungary should be higher in this Power Ranking. However, the sacking of Ljubomir Vranjes as Veszprém coach has also led to him losing his job as Hungary coach, casting a cloud of uncertainty over the team, something they can ill-afford in a tricky group alongside Russia and Slovakia. The short-term appointment of István Csoknyai should steady the ship.

7. Iceland

They did not make life easy for themselves in their World Championship Play-off, scraping past Lithuania, but Gudmundur Gudmundsson survived the first test of his third spell in charge of Iceland and we can now expect them to come on leaps and bounds. Talisman Aron Palmarsson is returning to form and will lead the line for a new-look squad, which will be tested by three long away journeys to south-east Europe in this campaign.

6. Serbia

After a sub-par performance in January, new coach Nenad Perunicic, a star player for Yugoslavia in the 90s and early 2000s, has come in and guided Serbia through a tricky World Championship play-off against Portugal. The emergence of Vardar goalkeeper Dejan Milosavljevic is proof that talent continues to be produced for a team which has been in a state of transition in recent years.

5. Russia

Having missed out on EHF EURO 2018, Russia spent January in Qualification Phase 1 for the World Championship, coming through unscathed and backing it up with a comfortable play-off win over Czech Republic. 16 of the extended squad ply their trade at VELUX EHF Champions league clubs, including four at in-form Vardar. Wounded by their failure to qualify last time, expect this Russian team to come out fighting from the off.

4. Germany

After slumping to a ninth place finish in their title defence, Germany and coach Christian Prokop have a point to prove ahead of a home World Championship in January. This German squad is the healthiest we have seen in a while and Prokop will also use this week to give young players Franz Semper and Tim Suton a chance to shine.

3. Croatia

The most comfortable winners in June’s World Championship play-off, beating Montenegro by 12 goals, have strong form coming into these qualifiers. Goalkeeper Marin Sego has been excellent in excellent form this season, while Domagoj Duvnjak and Igor Karacic appear to have found their groove again, making for a very dangerous squad.

2. Denmark

Co-hosts of January’s World Championship, Denmark will be aiming to peak in the coming months and using the upcoming qualifiers against Ukraine and Faroe Islands as tune-ups. With two top quality options in almost every position, the only question mark hanging over the squad is at right back, but that worry is heavily outweighed by the return to form of their superstar Mikkel Hansen.

1. France

As the highest ranked team at EHF EURO 2018 required to qualify this time around, France should not have many issues in their group. Since January, three French clubs, featuring a healthy chunk of the national team, reached the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and the future looks bright for this group of players. The news of Nikola Karabatic's foot surgery, sidelining him for at least four months, is a blow the French should easily deal with next week, but his absence will be most sorely felt at January's World Championship.


TEXT: Chris O'Reilly
 
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