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09.04.2019, 12:50
Switzerland and Portugal close to ending long EHF EURO wait
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ROUND 3 PREVIEW: Both Switzerland and Portugal appear to have their best chances of reaching the final tournament in years, as the 32-team race to the EHF EURO 2020 continues with a series of double-headers
 

Switzerland and Portugal close to ending long EHF EURO wait

The Men’s EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers continue with a series of double-headers in Rounds 3 and 4, with each side playing one home and one away match. A total of 10 teams are looking to continue unbeaten form, while eight enter this stage still on the hunt for their first points.

Groups 2 and 8 are already shaping up to be two of the most interesting and competitive, with all four teams having collected points in the opening rounds.

GROUP 2
Belgium vs Switzerland
Wednesday 10 April, 20:10 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Switzerland have the chance to take a significant step towards the final tournament in their double-header against Belgium. The side, featuring the top scorer of the qualifiers so far, Andy Schmid (18 goals), were defeated in their Round 1 clash before taking a confident win over Serbia in Round 2. But the 31:28 loss to Croatia was more of a hint of Switzerland’s current good form than an indication of any weakness.

However, Belgium have proven they are not to be underestimated, given that they forced Serbia to a draw away from home.

Neither side have reached an EHF EURO via the qualification phase – and Belgium have never contested the final tournament at all.

“We have our fate in our hands for the first time in many years. If we win both games against Belgium, we have an outstanding opportunity,” Schmid told ehf-euro.com ahead of the first clash.

“Our focus is entirely on these two games, but we must not cramp. Above all, we experienced players need to take pressure from the young guns. I played the EHF EURO 2006 on the home court and I really want to play in a big tournament again.”

Serbia vs Croatia
Thursday 11 April, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Serbia host Croatia in Belgrade for a classic derby clash – the first of two head-to-head matches for the neighbours this week. Croatia took an early place in the group’s driver’s seat, sitting first with four points after two wins in the opening rounds.

Serbia are already under pressure, having drawn 27:27 against Belgium in their opener before suffering a five-goal defeat to Switzerland, 29:24, in Round 2. With their one point, the EHF EURO 2012 silver medallists are in fourth place.

If Serbia do not collect any points in the double-header against Croatia, their chances of proceeding to the final tournament will be dramatically slimmed. 

Serbia and Croatia have met four times in official matches and the historical record is just in favour of Croatia, who have taken two wins and one draw against their local rivals. However, Serbia won the most important game between them to date – the EHF EURO 2012 semi-final on home court.

GROUP 5
Czech Republic vs Belarus
Wednesday 10 April, 18:10 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Czech Republic were perhaps the biggest surprise of EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia, where they equalled their best ranking – sixth, achieved for the first time in 1996. That result came after they missed a place at the EURO 2016, making it even more of a shock for those they defeated in 2018, such as Denmark and Hungary.

Czech Republic are no longer a dark horse and they are proving that with their results in the EHF EURO 2018 Qualifiers. The Czechs opened with two wins, against Finland and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now sit alone atop Group 5 with four points.

Now, they face what could be a much tougher test: Belarus, an opponent Czech Republic have lost to on three of the five occasions they have met.

However, Czech Republic won their most recent clash, taking a 32:31 victory after a penalty shootout to decide 17th place at the 2015 World Championship. An additional factor in favour of the Czech side is that Belarus lost to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Round 2, while Czech Republic beat the same rival 25:20.

GROUP 6
Portugal vs France
Thursday 11 April, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

A top-of-the-table clash will close Round 3 in Group 6, with Portugal to host record world champions France in Guimaraes. Portugal are known for playing particularly well at home – but France are known for responding well to exactly that scenario. Both enter the match on four points from two victories.

The EHF EURO 2018 bronze medallists have a history of winning big titles playing away, even against the host team – the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, for example – so they are no strangers to performing in front of a hostile home crowd. But Portugal’s chances of causing an upset have never been better.

“We must maintain the attitude that has led us to two wins in two games. Both were important, but the victory in Lithuania was decisive to get closer to qualification,” Portugal head coach Paulo Pereira told ehf-euro.com in an exclusive interview.

That win is indeed notable, as Lithuania defeated Norway and lost a game to France by just one goal in the EURO 2018 Qualifiers.

Out of seven encounters against France, Portugal have emerged as victors once, way back in 1960. The most recent clash was in 2009, and while France have built on the impressive results they had already collected at that point, Portugal have come even further.

GROUP 8
Montenegro vs Denmark
Wednesday 10 April, 21:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

No team is in the spotlight as much as Denmark after their World Championship win in January. The Scandinavian side added their first ever world title to their historic 2016 Olympic gold medal, and now have the EURO in their sights.

Coach Nikolaj Jacobsen believes that his team’s success has only added motivation to reach the EURO and claim the title. He is wary of Montenegro, however.

“Ever since I saw the draw for these qualifiers, I have considered the matches against Montenegro to be our two most difficult matches in the group, and that is still my opinion,” Jacobsen said to ehf-euro.com.

“Away games in the Balkans are always difficult, and our away game against Montenegro will probably not be any exception to that rule, whilst I expect Montenegro to be getting serious trouble when meeting us in Copenhagen.”

The teams have met twice, with Denmark winning both matches. But the most recent clash, at EHF EURO 2016, saw a difference of just two goals: 30:28 for Denmark.

Montenegro will host the first leg of this double-header in Podgorica, before the teams travel to Copenhagen for the return fixture.

Remaining Round 3 and 4 fixtures

GROUP 1
Poland vs Germany – Wednesday 10 April, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Kosovo vs Israel – Wednesday 10 April, 19:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP 3
Greece vs Turkey – Wednesday 10 April, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Iceland vs North Macedonia – Wednesday 10 April, 19:45 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP 4
Estonia vs Latvia – Thursday 11 April, 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Netherlands vs Slovenia – Thursday 11 April, 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP 5
Finland vs Bosnia-Herzegovina – Thursday 11 April, 18:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP 6
Romania vs Lithuania – Thursday 11 April, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP 7
Italy vs Slovakia – Wednesday 10 April, 18:45 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Russia vs Hungary – Wednesday 10 April, 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP 8
Ukraine vs Faroe Islands – Wednesday 10 April, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / cor
 
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