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24.10.2018, 22:35
EHF EURO 2020 Qualification Phase 2 opens with two nail-biting draws
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QUALIFICATION REVIEW 1: The first matches of the EHF EURO 2020 Qualification Phase 2 deliver a thrilling spectacle, as two games end in draws while Czech Republic and Poland celebrate victories
 

EHF EURO 2020 Qualification Phase 2 opens with two nail-biting draws

The opening EHF EURO 2020 Qualification Phase 2 matches set high expectations for the excitement to come on the road to the expanded final tournament, where, for the first time, 24 teams will vie for the title instead of 16. Poland and Czech Republic were the first to collect two points, as they defeated Kosovo and Finland, respectively.

While Poland and Czech Republic were securing their victories, Serbia, Belgium, Montenegro and Faroe Islands endured tense matches that ended in draws.

For Serbia, it was a case of a lost opportunity as they led Belgium until the final minutes, while Montenegro staged a great comeback in the second half only to lose a late advantage versus Faroe Islands in the last 90 seconds.

GROUP 1

Poland vs Kosovo 37:13 (15:5)

There was never a doubt as to which team would celebrate the two points in Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski on Wednesday night, as hosts Poland were in command from the first whistle to the last.

With a squad that has changed almost completely during the last couple of years, Poland are beginning to reap the rewards of the rebuilding process – as shown by this decisive Round 1 win.

When Poland led 10:1 after 15 minutes, it was clear Kosovo were in trouble, and as the visitors could only score just four more goals in the half it seemed the points were all but decided by the break.

Kosovo worked hard in attack, but Poland’s 6-0 defence was too powerful, and it took 49 minutes for the guests to reach double digits (29:10). As the home team held a 19-goal advantage at that point, there was no doubt the two points would stay in Poland.

GROUP 2

Serbia vs Belgium 27:27 (15:14)

While Serbia have made it to every Men’s EHF EURO since 2010, Belgium are playing only their second qualification phase 2 campaign – so it seemed the more-experienced Serbia team had the upper hand ahead of Wednesday night’s encounter.

But Belgium proved that history means nothing, as they pushed the hosts throughout the entire 60 minutes. Serbia could not rely on their best defensive game, as their two Champions League goalkeepers – Kielce’s Vladimir Cupara and Vardar’s Dejan Milosavljev – did not perform at their usual level and it was Serbia’s attack that led them to a narrow edge at half-time, as they converted more offensive opportunities than Belgium.

The match was tense through to the final minutes, when Belgium claimed the upper hand, 26:24, with a 4:0 run. Belgium goalkeeper Jeff Lettens made some important saves in the critical moments, but he could not stop Serbia from levelling the game which was played in front of a sold-out 3,500 fans in Zrenjanin.

GROUP 5

Czech Republic vs Finland 31:27 (15:12)

They were the sensation of the last Men’s EHF EURO, back in 2018, but in their opening EURO 2020 Qualification match Czech Republic seemed to have lost some of the strength that led them to victories over powerful opponents such as 2016 Olympic champions Denmark at the event last January.

Coming up against Finland, who have yet to qualify for a EURO, Czech Republic were the favourites to take the two points – though it proved far from easy.

After a level opening, Czech Republic finished the first half with a 4:2 partial that turned their one-goal advantage (11:10) into a three-goal lead just in time for the break. In the opening minutes of the second period, the hosts reached a five-goal difference before Finland closed the gap.

Though Finland made 12 technical faults in the game, it was not easy going for Czech Republic, but the lead built before half-time proved critical as the home team maintained control.

GROUP 8

Montenegro vs Faroe Islands 24:24 (10:15)

The first match of the EHF EURO 2020 Qualification Phase saw Montenegro stage a great comeback in the second half only to have the victory snatched from their grasp in the last 90 seconds.

With the home side 24:22 up and less than 90 seconds on the clock, Faroe Islands caused two turnovers which they converted into counter-attack goals to equalise just before the final buzzer.

The visitors had a better first half, with a 37 percent save rate for goalkeeper Nicholas Satchwell and a more efficient attack.

At the break, the visitors held a five-goal lead, but Montenegro fought back to level, 18:18, with 15 minutes remaining.

Though Montenegro pulled ahead and looked on their way to a win with a 24:21 advantage, Faroe Islands did not give in. The visitors were rewarded when left wing Roi Berg Hansen netted his sixth goal to secure the draw at the death.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan/amc
 
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