REVIEW 1: Czech comeback stuns Serbia, while Austria and Poland hold on to their narrow first-leg leads
Czech Republic, Russia, Austria, Poland ready for Qatar 2015
Czech Republic, Russia, Austria and Poland are ready to follow the already qualified European teams from Spain, France, Denmark and Croatia to Qatar for the World Championship in January next year.
That is a fact after four second leg play-offs took place on Saturday.
Serbia had an eight-goal lead before facing Czech Republic in Brno, but already in the first half did the Czechs catch up with that distance, and the hosts went on to eventually win by 12 goals (33:21) and thus by four on aggregate.
Russia also had an eight goal-lead after their home game against Lithuania, but unlike Serbia the Russians did not get in any kind of trouble in the second leg. They even won by 11 goals this time (33:22).
The remaining two Saturday games became nail-biting thrillers.
Austria, who had brought a two-goal lead from their home game against Norway with them, were leading by five goals in Bergen, but in the end they had to fight hard for the draw (28:28) which was - nevertheless - more than enough to qualify.
Poland, who were one goal up after their home match against Germany, at some point trailed by five in the return match, but still they managed to fight back and qualify through another one goal win (29:28).
The last five European participants at the World Championship will be decided in Sunday's play-offs.
Czech Republic vs Serbia 33:21 (18:8) / First leg 15:23 - aggregate score: 48:44
In the end it became a semi-happy day for Czech handball in Brno: There was a disappointment all around when the women's national team lost its deciding qualification match for the EHF EURO 2014 22:25 to Poland.
That result was exactly enough for Poland to qualify, while Czech Republic will have to stay at home.
Later in the afternoon, though, the men took some sort of revenge for the women's team as they clinched their World Championship 2015 berth against all odds.
Being eight goals down against Serbia after a 15:23 loss in the first leg, the Czechs had quite a mountain to climb in the second leg, but already in the first half they caught up with the deficit.
Czech Republic had the far better start to the game, and at 14:6 after less than 25 minutes of play the deficit was equalised. A few minutes later the home team took the aggregate lead, as they increased the score to 16:7.
After being ten goals ahead at half-time, Czech Republic increased their lead to an impressive 12 goals early in the second half, and as the visitors never managed to get any closer than being ten goals behind, the 2,700 spectators started celebrating even before the final whistle.
It was the day of the wingers in the Czech team, as right wing Miroslav Jurka and his colleague on the opposite wing, Jiri Motl became the match's top scorers with nine goals each.
Lithuania vs. Russia 22:33 (13:13) / First leg 22:30 - aggregate score: 44:65
Just like Serbia, Russia had brought an eight-goal lead with them from the first leg.
But unlike the Serbs, who lost clearly against Czech Republic, the Russians never let Lithuania get the idea that they can catch up when the two teams met again in Kaunas.
Lithuania never even got close to a sensation like the one Czech Republic produced. Actually, the home team was only leading once, at 8:7 in the first half.
Apart from that Russia constantly led by one or two goals throughout the first half, and even though the half-time result was even at 13:13, the Russians were never in any kind of trouble.
This was proven clearly in the second half, as Russia first took the lead again, which they then increased goal by goal throughout the last 30 minutes.
They ended the game with a winning margin of 11 goals, three more than in the first leg, leaving absolutely no doubt which team was going to Qatar.
2105 spectators in the Zalgiris Arena of Kaunas saw Lithuania having at least the game's most scoring player. Povilas Barbaskas hit the back of the net eight times.
Norway vs Austria 28:28 (13:17) / First leg 26:28 - aggregate score: 54:56
Austria proved that their fine form at the EHF EURO 2014 in January, where they reached the main round, was not a once-in-a-lifetime performance.
Despite only having a narrow 28:26 lead from the first match against Norway, the Austrians clinched their World Championship berth with a 28:28 draw in front of 2,500 spectators in the Sotra Arena in Norway´s second largest city, Bergen.
However, Austria had to fight harder for the World Championship ticket at the end, than it looked like for large parts of the match.
Before the match Norway's injury list had grown with goalkeeper Ole Erevik injuring his ankle in training on Thursday. However, as Norway still had classy keepers in Espen Christensen and Magnus Dahl, this was not regarded as a huge handicap.
However, the visitors were dominating more or less the first 40 minutes, and apart from being down 0:1, Austria led by three or four goals for most of the first half.
Towards half-time they even were five goals ahead, and with a four-goal lead at half-time, everything was still looking bright for the Austrian team.
During the second half though, Norway slowly fought themselves back into the game, and with seven minutes and 16 seconds left, Norwegian top scorer Espen Lie Hansen, gave his team, at 25:24, its first lead since 1:0
For the rest of the match, the score changed constantly between a draw and a one-goal lead for Norway, but as Viktor Szilagyi scored the 27:27 equaliser for Austria with 40 seconds left, that matter was decided, as Norway would have needed a three-goal win at that point.
"I'm extremely disappointed and feel sorry for the lads who worked so hard get back into this game.
"We get more and more experience, and actually there is a lot of potential in this team, but obviously we are very disappointed when we miss out a championship after having had a chance like this," Norway´s national coach Christian Berge told Norwegian TV2.
Germany vs Poland 28:29 (14:10) / First leg 24:25 - aggregate score: 52:54
It was true thriller the spectators in Magdeburg witnessed on Saturday afternoon.
For large parts of the first half they saw a German team which seemed to be almost cruising towards their World Championship berth.
In the second half, then, they saw a constantly changing picture with Germany being in Qatar the one minute, and Poland being there the next minute.
In the end, an injury-handicapped Polish team had the better nerves and qualified for the World Championship by adding another one-goal win (29:28) to their 25:24 home victory last weekend.
Most of the first half belonged to Germany, though. Apart from a Polish 4:2 lead, Germany were dominating the first 30 minutes, spurred on by several impressive saves of goalkeeper Silvio Heinevetter.
Due to Heinevetter's performance, a strong defence and efficient counter attacks, the Germans changed the 2:4 deficit into a five-goal lead at 12:7. And because of a four-goal lead at half-time, the German team and its fans could still be confident.
As soon as the second half started, however, it did not take the visitors long to catch up and make the rest of the match one uninterrupted thriller with the lead changing almost constantly.
When Karol Bielecki equalised to make it 24:24 with nine minutes left, it was a fact that Germany needed a two-goal win to qualify, while Poland could do with a one-goal defeat due to Poland's 25:24 home win in the first match.
Germany did get that two-goal lead at 26:24 as well as at 27:25, but three unanswered Polish goals, the last one being scored with only 38 seconds left to bring the score to 28:27 for Poland made it all clear.
One more goal more for each team had impact on the fact that Poland are ready for the World Championship, while German handball suffered from another disappointment.
After failing to qualify for the EHF EURO 2014, they will not be participating at the World Championship either.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / ts
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