PREVIEW: Nine spots for European teams at France 2017 are still to be determined, and there is very little decided ahead of the second leg matches on Wednesday and Thursday
Crunch time in the World Championship Play-offs
The nine European teams to join hosts France, Germany, Spain and Croatia at the World Championship 2017 next January will be determined on Wednesday and Thursday when the respective second leg matches of the European play-off are being played.
The EHF live ticker is available at ticker.ehf.eu.
Montenegro vs Russia, Wednesday 15 June 18:00 hrs local time / First leg 22:29
When the two teams met in January in Poland in the preliminary round of the EHF EURO 2016, Russia won 28:21. And seven goals also separated the two teams in the first leg of the World Championship Play-offs.
Russia won the first leg at home 29:22 on Sunday – a match in which the Russians were pretty much in control all the way.
There is no doubt that Montenegro will have to come up with something extra special and also rely on the support from their home crowd, if a ticket for France 2017 shall come true after 60 minutes.
Latvia vs Belarus, Wednesday 15 June 18.35 hrs local time / First leg 26:24
Not even 10 goals from Siarhei Rutenka were enough to secure Belarus an assuring result ahead of their visit to Valmiera in Latvia for the second leg. The 26:24 win they recorded is not designed to make them feel calm.
On the other hand, it must have granted Latvia a lot of belief in their capabilities to clinch their first World Championship berth in history.
A key to Latvian success may be Dainis Kristopans.
The 2.15m tall right back scored nine goals in the first match in Minsk and another stellar performance from Kristopans may be what it needs for the hosts to Belarus on aggregate.
Norway vs Slovenia, Wednesday 15 June, 19:00 hrs local time / First leg 18:24
Slovenia have an obvious advantage before the two teams meet in Stavanger on Wednesday evening for the second leg play-off.
A six-goal lead from the first match at home has taken the Slovenians very close to the final tournament, while Norway are in great danger of missing their second World Championship in a row.
“It will be difficult but not impossible,” Norway’s national coach Christian Berge told the Aftenposten newspaper.
“We will have to run more than we did in the first match. We have to focus on the immediate counter attack when we receive goals as well as on fast breaks. In addition, we will need to involve our backs much more.
“Beating Slovenia by seven goals is possible. Too many of our players underperformed in the first match,” said Berge.
The Norway head coach probably has to find some solutions to tame Slovenian playmaker Dean Bombac who was very dominating in the first match.
Netherlands vs Poland, Wednesday 15 June 19.30 hrs local time / First leg 21:27
Just like Slovenia, Poland are leading by six goals after the first leg. However, it took the Polish side some time to carve out that assuring lead in the first leg at home.
In Saturday’s game in Katowice, the Netherlands were able to keep pace with their favoured Polish opponents for the entire first half, and it was only after the break that Poland established the expected clear lead, as they were spurred on by the support from 6,000 spectators in Spodek Arena.
Six goals may not be impossible to catch up with for the Netherlands, but it is surely a huge mountain to climb if they want to qualify for their first World Championship.
FYR Macedonia vs Czech Republic, Wednesday 15 June, 20:00 hrs local time / First leg 22:28
The Czech Republic have a really good chance to book a ticket for their second World Championship in a row, as the 28:22 home win against FYR Macedonia saw them setting course straight towards France 2017.
The Czechs played without their star Filip Jicha, while for FYR Macedonia not even eight goals from Kiril Lazarov were enough to achieve a fairly satisfying result in the first match.
There is no doubt that the Macedonians will have to perform at a considerably better level in Skopje on Wednesday night, if they want to continue hoping for a ticket to France 2017.
Hungary vs Serbia, Wednesday 15 June 20:00 hrs local time / First leg 26:25
Serbia made the most stunning comeback in all first leg matches when they temporarily caught up with an eight-goal deficit in the home game against Hungary.
Nevertheless Hungary won in the end and even though their win was considerably narrower than it looked to be earlier in the match, the one-goal lead still makes Hungary the favourites ahead the second leg – in particular as they can count on the home support in the Veszprém Arena.
It will be interesting to see though if Serbia can pull another stunning performance out of their hat.
Bosnia Herzegovina vs Sweden, Wednesday 15 June 20:15 local time / First leg 19:27
2,500 Bosnian supporters among the 5,900 spectators in Växjö did their best to back their team in the first leg between the two nations, but it did not help much in the end, as Sweden won by a clear eight goals and have at least one foot in France before arriving to Sarajevo for the return match.
Bosnia-Herzegovina were able to keep the first match fairly level for most of the first half, but after the break the Swedes established what may turn out to be a decisive lead.
“It is a good opponent, and you should not take anything for granted, but we should be able to at least keep the return match balanced, so that we maintain this lead overall,” said Swedish national coach Staffan Olsson.
Austria vs Denmark, Wednesday 16 June, 20:25 local time / First leg 27:35
Until there were about 10 minutes left in the first leg, the match seemed almost like a fairytale for the Austrians.
As they were only trailing 26:24, they were heading towards a result which would have definitely allowed them to hope ahead of the home game in Vienna.
However, an impressive surge by the Danes changed the two-goal difference into an eight-goal win for Denmark and made the situation look completely different ahead of the Wednesday game.
“I am not happy yet. The first leg was only the first half, but still, I go to Vienna with a little smile on my face,” Denmark’s national coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson said.
For one player the match in Austrian capital is likely to be particularly special: Viktor Szilagyi is playing his last international. Recently, the 37-year-old playmaker announced his the end of his professional career and the home game against Denmark will mark his farewell.
Portugal vs Iceland, Thursday 16 June 21:00 local time / First leg 23:26
The Icelandic players were obviously annoyed at the final buzzer of the first match in Reykjavik on Sunday evening.
Taking a three-goal lead with them to Portugal was less than they had expected, in particular as they had led by five goals early in the second half and seemed to have a rather solid grip on the match.
However, a tactically well-organised and well-fighting Portugal almost caught up again and the three-goal difference actually makes things quite open ahead of the decisive battle in Porto on Sunday night.
TEXT: EHF / ts
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