ROUND PREVIEW: The final nine European tickets for the Women's World Championship 2017 will be handed out this week, with two matches on Tuesday, three on Wednesday and four on Thursday
Crunch time in Women's World Championship play-offs
The final nine European participants for the Women's World Championship 2017 will be taken on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, as the second leg of the play-off ties take place.
While some teams may have already booked a December flight to Germany, thanks to a comprehensive first leg victory, there are still many ties that are finely balanced.
Sweden v FYR Macedonia, Tuesday 13 June, 19:15 local time
After their impressive 31:20 victory in Skopje on Saturday night, Sweden are very close to qualifying. The Macedonians were only able to match the Swedes for about a quarter-of-an-hour in the first leg, and on home court in the Ystad Arena there is little doubt that Sweden will finish the job. Still, Sweden's coach Henrik Signell demands full focus from his players in the return match.
"Obviously, things look very bright for us. However, we must still play another good match. Many people will be coming to watch us, and furthermore, we need full focus in order to continue our joint development," Signell told the Swedish Handball Federation's official website.
Austria v Romania, Tuesday 13 June, 19:35 local time
This tie is one of the most open second legs of the round. Romania are defending a five-goal lead after winning 34:29 at home on Friday, but this result still gives the Austrians hope ahead of the return match in Stockerau on Tuesday night.
Austria's coach Herbert Müller thought that his team deserved a better result, but his optimism before the home game is limited.
"When you look at the result, everything is still open ahead of the return match. Yet, Romania are a world class team, and they are also clear favourites here in Austria. We will obviously give our best, but without nursing too high hopes," Müller said.
The match is streamed live on laola1.tv.
Serbia v Italy, Wednesday 14 June, 18:00 local time
Serbia won the first match in Padova 33:23, and the Serbs should have no problems clinching their World Championship berth when the two teams meet again in Nis in southern Serbia.
Italy coach Michael Niederwieser's job has not been made any easier by several injuries to some of his players. Italy have never taken part in a Women's World Championship before, and they are unlikely to qualify this year. Serbia should already have the ticket to Germany in their pocket.
Slovakia v Hungary, Wednesday 14 June, 18:00 local time
The Slovakians will need a minor miracle to reach Germany, after Hungary defeated them 28:19 in the first match in Debrecen on Saturday. Overturning a nine-goal deficit in Bratislava on Wednesday looks to be mission impossible. Left back Martina Skolkova, who was her team's most successful goalscorer in Debrecen with six goals, promises the spectators in Bratislava a better performance from her team.
"Unfortunately, we cannot change the result of the first match, but we want to at least make our home audience happy," she said.
Despite being nine goals ahead, Hungary's Danish coach Kim Rasmussen was only moderately content with his team's performance in the first leg.
"I was content with the win and with our defence, which conceded less than 20 goals. However, we must improve several things in our attacking play ahead of the return game," said Rasmussen.
Spain v Ukraine, Wednesday 14 June 21:00 local time
After drawing 24:24 in the away leg against Ukraine, Spain appear to be favourites on home court - despite having lost a seven-goal lead in the away game. Still, Spain's national coach Carlos Viver remains cautious.
"I think the tie is still open, and we must improve numerous things for the match in Antequera," he says. Goalkeeper Darly Zoqbi De Paula is in no doubt what needs to be done in the home match.
"The draw in the first match was totally our mistake, and we must simply make fewer mistakes in the second leg," she said.
Belarus v Montenegro, Thursday 15 June, 18:00 local time
If Belarus can play the way they did in the first half of the away match, they still have a chance to make it to Germany. They trail 33:26 ahead of their home match in Minsk, but at half time in Montenegro they were leading 15:12 before losing the second half by 10 goals.
Yet, the Montenegrins ought to be aware that they cannot afford another half like the first 30 minutes of the first leg, and coach Dragan Adzic will be making that clear to his players.
Slovenia v Croatia, Thursday 15 June, 18:00 local time
After their 28:23 win in Osijek, Croatia, on Saturday, Slovenia are obvious favourites to take the final step towards Germany when the teams meet again in Celje on Thursday evening. Despite this, Slovenia's coach Uros Bregar is not taking anything for granted.
"The first part of our task is complete, but I am not satisfied yet. We still have a lot of work to do now that the second half is awaiting us in Celje. We are still far from having qualified for the World Championship," he said.
Turkey v Czech Republic, Thursday 15 June, 19:00 local time
Only being four goals up, the Czechs cannot feel secure ahead of the trip to Ankara. Considering that their four-goal advantage (29:25) from the first match was only established in the final minutes, coach Jan Basny and his players may have reason to worry. Meanwhile the Turkish side still have hopes of reaching their first World Championship.
Basny warned his team before the first leg that Turkey would not be a walkover. Now his words may carry even more weight ahead of the return match, where Turkey are likely to have the support of a large and loud home crowd.
Poland v Russia, Thursday 15 June, 18:30 local time
Russia's Olympic champions likely have nothing to fear from their trip to Koszalin. Having won the first leg in Astrakhan 31:20, it would take a spectacular demise for Russia to miss December's tournament. However, coach Evegeiji Trefilov refuses to accept the idea that his team is already through.
"We have taken things too easily once before against Poland – in the quarter-final of the 2015 World Championship – and that resulted in a defeat and us finishing in fifth position. Poland can show teeth all of a sudden, and that is why we cannot allow ourselves to relax," Trefilov said.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / ap
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