REVIEW 2: A thrilling day of first leg play-off matches for the 2015 Men’s World Championship came to an end late Saturday night with victories for the three home sides
Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia victorious in first leg of play-off matches
A thrilling day of first leg play-off matches for the 2015 Men’s World Championship came to an end late Saturday night with victories by in-form Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and determined Serbia.
Austria vs. Norway 28:26 (15:16)
Austria continued their run of surprising everyone, adding yet another solid performance to their recent good form. This time it was Norway that suffered under the rapidly improving team, with Austria recording a win against the traditionally stronger side on Saturday.
Norway were by no means outclassed, initially performing better statistically and keeping the score even or within one for almost the entire match.
Both teams were missing key players, which meant both were at a disadvantage, but the form that saw Austria reach the main stage of the EHF EURO 2014 was enough to ensure a win on Saturday.
Fighting until the final whistle to end the tense match with a last-minute goal, Austria proved they are now truly a force in men’s handball.
Norway now look forward to welcoming the Austrians to Bergen next Saturday, where the home-crowd advantage might just be enough to help them pull off a win and book their spot in Qatar.
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iceland 33:32 (14:17)
Despite the lesser experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina in comparison with their powerhouse opponents, Iceland, the hosts proved worthy of their reputation for dominating on a home court, recording a win in their first leg play-off match.
Having not missed a major international competition since the 2009 World Championship in Croatia, Iceland were the clear favourites ahead of Saturday’s match.
Iceland took the lead in the first half, edging ahead by three goals with level-headed, organised attack and strong defence.
When Iceland retained their lead into the second half, the fate of the match looked to be sealed, until midway through the second half when Bosnia and Herzegovina made a drastic recovery.
The home side levelled the score quickly, then pulled ahead, but the Icelandic team was not willing to give up, continuing to fight until the final whistle.
There was no stopping Bosnia and Herzegovina once they pulled ahead however, and the home side finished the match leading by one goal (33:32).
With one match remaining between the two teams, this particular spot amongst the nine remaining for the European continent is more in question than ever. Iceland and Bosnia and Herzegovina will meet again next Sunday in Reykjavik.
Serbia vs. Czech Republic 23:15 (13:6)
As not only one of the most unpredictable games of the first leg of play-offs, but also as a match that would bring together three of the world’s top shooters - Momir Ilic and Marko Vujin for Serbia, Filip Jicha for Czech Republic, Saturday’s game proved just as exciting for the vocal crowd in Nis as expected.
The Czech Republic were out to atone for their disappointing performance in the EHF EURO 2014, where coach Vladimir Haber acknowledged the team did not play their best.
The pressure was also on Serbia, who have recently been performing below their capabilities; most notably those shown when they won the silver medal at the EHF EURO 2012.
It was Serbia that proved more eager to overturn their luck, taking the lead immediately and increasing the score line as the game continued.
When Serbia took a seven point lead into half-time (13:6), it looked as though the match was decided – and it was.
The second half was much the same as the first, with Serbia maintaining a convincing lead. The final score in favour of the hosts was 23:15.
Fans will have to wait until next weekend to see whether Serbia will continue their form and clinch their berth at the World Championship 2015. The second match between Serbia and Czech Republic will take place in Brno, where the home side have a superb record of performing in qualification matches, on Saturday.
TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
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