Netherlands, Lithuania and Portugal make the play-offs
When qualification Phase 1 came to an end on Sunday night, Netherlands, Lithuania and Portugal joined Russia and Romania as group winners to advance to the play-offs for the World Championship 2019.
Netherlands topped Group 5 after a quality performance (33:30) against Belgium, while Portugal fought hard with Poland to earn a (27:27) stalemate, which sent the Group 4 hosts (Portugal) through to the next stage.
In Group 2, Lithuania converted the home advantage into a play-off berth following a decisive (29:27) win over Latvia.
Europe will be represented by 13 teams at the 24-nation Men's World Championship 2019, which will be played from 10 to 27 January 2019 in Germany and Denmark.
As defending champions, France, as well as Germany and Denmark as hosts, are already qualified. They will be joined by the champion of the Men's EHF EURO 2018 or the respective best-ranked team in case France, Germany or Denmark win gold.
The play-off draw takes place on January 27 and will include the group winners from qualification Phase 1, and the 12 remaining teams contesting the EHF EURO 2018.
The two-leg play-offs, from 8 to 10 and 12 to 14 June, will determine the final nine European participants for the World Championship 2019.
Luxembourg vs Slovakia 28:27 (12:11)
Luxembourg surprised Slovakia, defeating them 28:27 with a goal scored two seconds before the final buzzer to claim their first win of the campaign, which does not affect the final standings of Group 1.
The match had a special taste for Slovakia wing Radoslav Antl, for whom it was the farewell from the national team after 20 years.
Lithuania vs Latvia 29:27 (15:15)
Lithuania made the most of their home advantage and advanced from Group 2 after claiming the deciding victory in the Baltic derby against Latvia. Even 10 goals from Latvia’s top scorer of the tournament, left back Aivis Jurdzs, did not help the Latvians fulfil their ambitions.
The Lithuanians were ahead of their opponents for most of the game, with only a brief weaker sequence at the end of the first half. 10 goals from the Lithuanian and Motor Zaporozhye centre back Aidenas Malasinskas were decisive.
The hosts recorded more technical faults, but compensated with a higher shot efficiency compared to that of their rivals.
It was the fourth Lithuanian win over Latvia in the last five years.
Israel vs Georgia 23:23 (12:12)
In the other Group 2 match, Israel drew against Georgia thanks to a goal scored five seconds from time.
Portugal vs Poland 27:27 (15:13)
Portugal qualified for the continental play-offs after a dramatic stalemate against Poland, following a quality comeback from the visitors in the second half.
Things could hardly have been more dramatic in Povoa de Varzim. Portugal needed a draw to qualify for the play-offs, while Poland had to win.
The hosts quickly grabbed the lead and continued with their convincing performances from the first two group matches however, they could not keep up the level of their play.
Poland wasted chances toward the end, putting the hosts under more pressure, but Portugal held their nerve and were the ones to celebrate after the final whistle.
Everything was decided in the final minutes. At 27:26, Poland did not give up, levelling the score thanks to Kamil Krieger at the beginning of minute 60 – after Gilberto Duarte missed the chance to give Portugal a two-goal lead.
One-on-one defence did not help Poland regain possession for one more chance to score the winning goal, which would have sent Poland to the play-offs instead of Portugal.
Cyprus vs Kosovo 24:22 (14:14)
Both teams suffered heavy defeats in the previous matches and wanted to farewell the tournament with a positive ending. The Cypriots snatched the win in the final 10 minutes with three goals in a row.
Netherlands vs Belgium 33:30 (17:14)
Netherlands advanced to the play-offs after beating Belgium in front of 1,800 fans in a packed arena in Sittard.
Damian Kedziora, who scored 38 goals in this qualification campaign, did not have his best day and only netted one.
Netherlands were strong in the back court, with Bobby Schagen contributing the most goals (six), earning him the top-scorer crown for qualification Phase 1, with a total of 39.
Belgium were denied by the fantastic keeping of Gerrie Eijlers on a number of occasions.
Netherlands developed a three-goal lead midway through the first half, which they held onto until the end. Belgium managed to come closer several times, but could not level the score or take the lead.
Turkey vs Greece 24:23 (13:12)
Turkey beat Greece in a dramatic one-goal encounter to secure third spot in the group, where they finished level on points with second-placed Belgium.
Ramazan Döne, the most notable Turkish player and star for EHF Champions League side Besiktas, scored six goals to guide his team to their third win in the group.
TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / cg