Strong finish puts Denmark in reach of France
The World Championship 2017 place available to the winner of the Iceland-Portugal tie remains open after Iceland won with a relatively narrow 26:23 in Reykjavik in the first leg on Sunday.
Another Nordic country is considerably closer to the final tournament in France with the return match still to be played. Denmark changed a two-goal lead into a 35:27 win with a strong finish at home against Austria, and therefore take an eight-goal advantage with them to Vienna on Wednesday.
Men’s World Championship 2017 Qualification Europe – First-leg play-offs
Iceland vs Portugal 26:23 (13:10)
The three-goal difference between the teams allows Portugal to carry on hoping ahead of the return match in Porto on Thursday.
In a fantastic atmosphere among 2,460 spectators in a full Laugardalshöll in Reykjavik, both teams had problems with the other’s 6-0 defence, and Iceland had to deal with Portugal intermittently switching to a successful 5-1 system at times.
The goalkeepers also caused headaches at both ends, particularly Björgvin Pall Gustavsson in the Icelandic goal.
Both teams had particular problems with penalty shots, as only two out of nine attempts from the seven-metre line finished in the net.
Iceland were missing star players Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson and Alexander Petersson, which proved to be a problem for the home team as the match progressed.
But Iceland were still the first team to crack the opposition’s defence, and after establishing a two-goal lead from the middle of the first half, they increased it to five at 15:10 early in the second.
However, a number of technical mistakes from the home side contributed to Portugal coming back into the game with force, reducing the distance to only one goal at 19:20.
As the clock ticked on Iceland increased the advantage again, but not quite enough to feel secure before they travel to Portugal for the second-leg play-off.
Aron Palmarsson scored six goals for Iceland to be the top scorer of the match, while Tiago Rocha and Antonio Rodrigues Areia contributed five each for Portugal.
Denmark vs Austria 35:27 (15:12)
After an impressive finish, which saw Denmark turn a narrow 26:24 lead into a 35:27 difference at the final whistle, the Scandinavian team are very close to qualifying for the final tournament in France.
Stellar performances by Niklas Landin in goal as well as from Kasper Søndergaard, Mikkel Hansen and Casper Ulrich Mortensen in attack decided the match in front of 3,945 spectators in Sparekassen Fyn Arena, Odense.
“We allowed them to score too many goals during the middle phase of the match, but apart from that, I think we came okay out of the match. Eight goals are probably satisfactory,” said Denmark back court player and defender Henrik Møllgaard.
Both teams played an aggressive defensive system, with Austria employing 5-1 and Denmark using a more offensive version of their 6-0, but overall it was a match dominated by attacking players more than defenders.
Denmark enjoyed the far better start and quickly moved ahead to a 10:4 lead, but Austria improved as the period progressed and narrowed the distance to half of that by the break.
For great parts of the second half, the Austrians were able to follow the Danes. It was not until the last 10 minutes that the home team steamed ahead to create the eight-goal win, which marks them as serious favourites to claim the ticket to France in the return match in Vienna on Wednesday.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / cg