DAY REVIEW: Montenegro, Czech Republic and Russia qualified without trouble, while Croatia were close to leapfrogging Slovenia.
Final four teams ready for Germany
The final four European teams for the 2017 Women's World Championship in Germany qualified on Thursday, with one of them being too close to call for long periods. Away from home, Croatia initially managed to eliminate Slovenia's five-goal lead from the first match, before losing their grip on qualification in the second half.
Belarus won the match, but Montenegro qualified for the World Championship with an aggregate win of three goals.
Having won 33:26 at home, Montenegro could not feel completely secure although they were still relatively comfortable with their visit to Minsk.
When they began the second leg by taking a 6:3 lead, there seemed to be no trouble ahead for Dragan Adzic's team.
With six goals in a row, however, Belarus got up 9:6, and they kept the three-goal lead at 10:7 and 11:8. The team and the 1800 spectators in the Sport Palace Uruchje started to hope.
Already by half-time, Montenegro had reduced the gap to one goal again. When Milena Raicovic gave them back the lead at 12:11 through two penalty goals within the first three minutes of the second half, the obstacle was removed from Montenegro's path to Germany.
Montenegro even got four goals up at 20:16, and even though Belarus caught up once again and even went on to win by two, they were never threatening Montenegro's qualification.
Having won 28:23 away, Slovenia seemed to be heading for the final tournament before the home game had begun in Celje.
However, they were actually on the edge of missing out on qualification against a Croatian team who made a much better impression than in the home match in Osijek last Saturday.
In fact, it only took the Croatians 23 minutes to catch up with Slovenia's five-goal lead, as Ana Debelic made it 12:7 for the visitors. Croatia also went on to go 13:7 and 14:9 up.
However, this was the last time they would lead by the crucial five goals they needed to level the tie.
After being four up at half-time, they were also leading by four in the second half, but the home team kept hanging in. Towards the end, Slovenia managed to reduce the gap even further.
They equalised to make it 27:27 in the last minute, before Croatia earned a futile one-goal win at the end.
Zana Maric scored six goals for Croatia, just like Tamara Mavsar for Slovenia.
Turkey were chasing down a four-goal deficit after losing the first leg 29:25 in Brno, and for a while it seemed as if they had a good chance to catch up with the Czechs.
After the visitors had several two goal leads at the start, it was Turkey's turn to be two goals up towards the end of the half.
After being one goal up at the end of the first half, the home team reclaimed their two-goal advantage at the beginning of the final 30 minutes.
However, as Czech Republic turned a 17:15 deficit in an 18:17 lead, Turkish hopes faded. As the visitors went from 18:18 to 22:18, the last doubt about the final outcome was removed.
At the end the Czechs cruised from 25:23 to a convincing 31:23 win.
Veronkia Mala scored eight goals for the Czech Republic, with Betül Yilmaz top scoring for Turkey with six.
Poland had an enormous mountain to climb after their 31:20 defeat in Astrakhan on Friday of last week, but they ended up being several base camps short of the summit.
After 15 minutes they had led 9:6, and were leading most of the first half. However, they failed to get a big enough lead to to worry Evgenij Trefilov and his team.
Towards half-time, the Russians even took a two-goal lead, and for large parts of the final 30 minutes they were also leading by two or three goals.
Poland caught up, and were even leading 26:25 with eight minutes left, but the last part of the match belonged to Russia, who went from a narrow 28:27 lead to a four-goal advantage within the last four-and-a-half minutes.
Kinga Achruk scored seven goals for Poland, Anna Sen and Daria Samokhina netted five each for Russia.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / ap
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