PREVIEW: Spain, Sweden and Montenegro are close to qualifying for the upcoming Women’s World Championship, but in particular the EHF EURO 2014 bronze medallists from Sweden will have a tough battle to fight
EHF EURO 2014 semi-finalists en route to Denmark 2015
The Women’s World Championship Play-offs draw to a close on Sunday with matches being played in Slovakia, Iceland, Poland and Sweden and three EHF EURO 2014 semi-finalists, Sweden, Spain and Montenegro, in action.
One week ago Poland recorded a 24:18 win at Ukraine; Spain are already enjoying a six-goal lead following their 25:19 win against Slovakia, while Montenegro even take a ‘nine-goal cushion’ (28:19) with them to Iceland.
EHF EURO 2014 bronze medallists Sweden will have the toughest game to fight when they face Croatia, as the first leg ended with only a 24:23 win for the Scandinavians.
Slovakia vs Spain; Sunday 14 June, 14:15 hrs local time / First leg 19:25
Spain, who won silver at the EHF EURO 2014 in Hungary and Croatia, have a very good chance of entering another medal chase come the World Championship in Denmark in December.
After the first leg they lead by six goals against Slovakia and are therefore in a reasonably comfortable position ahead of the second leg in Sala.
However, it took the Spaniards a bit of time in the first match to carve out that lead.
Slovakia led by a goal or two for most of the first half, and it was only in the final minutes of the match that Spain created the six-goal lead they are taking with them to Slovakia.
Hence Spain should probably be careful not to give their opponents too much freedom this time, if they do not want to endanger their final tournament berth.
Iceland vs Montenegro, Sunday 14 June, 14:30 hrs local time / First leg 19:28
Iceland stunned an injury-handicapped Montenegrin team at the start of the first leg in Podgorica last Sunday.
They already led by six goals when the hosts eventually woke up and turned the match around in their favour, leaving the hall with a 28:19 win.
This clear lead is a comfortable support for the team of head coach Dragan Adzic when they travel to the Laugardalshöll in Reykjavik.
Montenegro are not likely to allow their opponents to surprise them as much as they did last Sunday, and the 2012 European champions are the favourites to book the ticket for Denmark 2015.
This match is the prelude to the Icelandic men’s EHF EURO 2016 qualifier on Sunday. The men will also face Montenegro in the battle for a place at the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland.
Poland vs Ukraine; Sunday 14 June, 15:00 local time / First leg 24:18
Following their 24:18 away win against Ukraine last week, Poland have one foot in the door to the final tournament in December.
But Poland’s coach Kim Rasmussen does not even want to focus on this possible outcome, when he sends his players into the Azoty Arena of Szczecin on Sunday afternoon.
"With ten minutes left, we may look at the score and decide if we have to think about that (the World Championship), but apart from this, we are going to focus on our own game and on improving it," he says.
"We can play more fluently in attack than we did in the first match, and we can also defend better than we did in the second half against Ukraine.
"This is what we are going to focus on, and we are still very humble towards the task, and we must also anticipate a certain pressure of expectation from our spectators.
"However, I admit that we are in a great position and that we are the favourites now."
Sweden vs Croatia; Sunday 14 June, 18.30 local time / First leg 24:23
For most of the first leg last week, Croatia were in a considerably better position than they find themselves in now.
They were leading by three or four goals, but eventually the Swedes turned the match upside down and took a one-goal lead with them.
This result obviously gives Sweden an edge before the second leg takes place in Hovet in Stockholm, where it is going to be part of a double event, as it will be followed by the Swedish men’s final EHF EURO 2016 qualifier against Slovakia.
A draw will do it for Sweden and so will even a one-goal defeat, as long as Croatia do not score more than 22 goals.
However, Swedish back court player Jenny Alm, who scored the winning goal in the first match, does not want to think about such possibilities.
"We feel that we have a great flow in our team at the moment, and we will have to hold on to that also on home court," she said.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / ts
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