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25.10.2018, 22:41
Croatia survive Switzerland’s seven-on-six test
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QUALIFICATION REVIEW 2: Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Netherlands and France finish round 1 of the EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers with confident wins at home on Thursday night
 

Croatia survive Switzerland’s seven-on-six test

After several matches ended in draws or last-grasp victories, round 1 of the EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers came to an end with four clearer – but far from one-sided – wins where the home sides took the points.

Croatia had a difficult task against Switzerland, who employed seven-on-six through most of the match but could not manage to overthrow the EURO 2018 hosts. FYR Macedonia and the Netherlands enjoyed comfortable wins against Turkey and Estonia, respectively, and world champions France defeated Lithuania.

GROUP 2

Croatia vs Switzerland 31:28 (15:16)

Though Switzerland have not qualified for the EHF EURO since 2004, while Croatia have a strong medal record, the hosts did not underestimate their visitors. Croatia coach Lino Cervar’s predictions about their opponents proved just right – Andy Schmid was difficult to contain and Switzerland switched to seven-on-six in attack once they fell behind in the first half.

That tactic was key in turning the tide of the game. Schmid scored his third goal, 6:6, before Croatia started to pull ahead, creating a three-goal lead. Switzerland’s change in attacking formation allowed them to close the gap and they held a narrow edge at the break.

The visitors stuck with the seven-on-six tactic throughout the second period, but Croatia still reclaimed the upper hand a few minutes in – 18:17 in the 35th minute. Croatia slowly built a more comfortable advantage and their victory was secure when they led 29:25 in the 56th. 

GROUP 3

FYR Macedonia vs Turkey 31:27 (17:13)

FYR Macedonia lived up to their status as favourites with a classic performance that included a parade of goals from Kiril Lazarov and a great game from goalkeeper Borko Ristovski.

Ristovski made five saves in the opening 10 minutes and, together with the solid defence, kept Turkey’s attacking efficiency to just 46 per cent in the first half. Lazarov tallied five goals at the end of the opening 30 minutes, when it appeared the hosts were comfortably in command.

FYR Macedonia faltered a little in the second half. After the hosts increased their advantage to eight goals, 23:15, Turkey turned the tables.

With a 5:1 run, the visitors came within four, 20:24 – but that was as close as they would come. FYR Macedonia kept the distance the same at the buzzer and celebrated their first two points on the path to their fifth straight EURO.

GROUP 4

Netherlands vs Estonia 35:25 (17:10)

Group 4 is one of the most interesting of the EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers, as three of the teams have never qualified before and will therefore make history if they do so this time. Neither the Netherlands nor Estonia have reached the EURO before, and it was the hosts who took the first step to doing so on Thursday night in Sittard.

The Netherlands were immediately dominant, scoring three unanswered goals to start the game. Estonia kept within one or two goals for some time, before a strong end to the half saw the Netherlands take a considerable advantage into the break.

Estonia reached double digits with the last goal of the half and kept the second period more level (18:15), but the Netherlands were more efficient in attack and better in defence. Goalkeeper Bart Ravensbergen was another key for the hosts – even scoring three goals.

GROUP 6

France vs Lithuania 42:27 (21:10)

France and Lithuania have some recent history – as recent as the EHF EURO 2018 Qualifiers in June 2017, when Lithuania almost pulled off a significant upset, losing to the world champions by just one goal. Nevertheless, three-time EHF EURO champions and the only 2018 medallists contesting the qualifiers, France, were expected to take a win at home in the last round 1 match.

The hosts delivered the expected two points with a commanding 15-goal victory that was never in doubt. France led by three goals by the 10th minute, 7:4, and were shooting at 78 per cent accuracy to Lithuania’s 40.

France extended their advantage to a decisive 11 goals at the break and cruised to the final whistle to collect their first set of two points.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan/jh
 
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