EHF EURO champions Norway show their true class

Courtney Gahan / ts

EHF EURO champions Norway show their true class

On Wednesday Romania defeated the current European, world and Olympic champions by five goals.

On Sunday, Norway showed why they hold so many titles by recording an even more decisive win in Round 4 of the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Phase.

The two World Championship 2015 medallists now lead Group 1 with both on six points from three wins.

In Group 2 Czech Republic held Serbia to a draw, while in Group 5 Poland scraped a last-minute victory against Hungary.

Group 7 saw Iceland record their first win of the qualification phase, defeating guests Switzerland by one goal.

GROUP 1: Norway vs Romania 27:17 (12:8)

After Romania defeated Norway for the first time in an official match since 2000, the hosts for Sunday’s return fixture took to the court with something to prove in front of their vocal supporters.

Norway hit the ground running, opening up a 5:1 advantage that prompted Romania coach Tomas Ryde to call his first time-out in the seventh minute.

Ryde had opted to start with a different side than usual, with notable absences on court as high-scoring left back Cristina Neagu, playmaker Eliza Buceschi and goalkeeper Paula Ungureanu started on the bench.

Without any changes to the line-up after the timeout Romania began to close the gap, and when they came within one at 5:6 just before the 15-minute mark it was time for Norway coach Thorir Hergeirsson to take his first timeout.

Norway returned to the court with renewed force, increasing their lead to 9:5 as they kept the visitors scoreless for almost eight minutes.

It was Florina Chintoan who broke the drought for Romania with a fast break before Sanna Solberg took Norway to double digits for the first time at 10:5 with just over five minutes left in the half.

Though the scoreless curse had lifted and Romania were able to add a few more to the score board, they could not come any closer than four goals before the break – at which point Neagu, Buceschi and Ungureanu remained on the sideline.

When the match resumed the lead stayed with Norway as they had increased their advantage to 18:12 after 10 minutes, signalling the end of Romania’s chances.

With five minutes left Amanda Kurtovic scored a penalty that put the score at 25:16, and the outcome that had looked possible from the start of the game was secured.

Norway are now on six points alongside Romania at the top of the table, though neither have confirmed their place at the final tournament in Sweden yet and will have to wait for the final rounds of qualification matches in June to do so.

GROUP 2: Serbia vs Czech Republic 28:28 (15:15)

After Serbia won by five goals (30:25) in the first-leg match in Czech Republic, the possibility of Sunday’s match on home soil ending in their favour looked very strong.

From the start it was one-for-one game though it was the visitors who took command to hold a 6:5 lead after 15 minutes.

Serbia once again relied heavily on a few key players with Katarina Krpez Slezak (nine goals) and Sladana Pop-Lazic (seven) responsible for all of their goals in the first quarter of the match.

The home side’s reliance on Krpez Slezak and Pop-Lazic proved detrimental early in the game, as Czech Republic were able to count on goals coming in from all positions while Serbia’s right wing and line player remained the only two on their score sheet alongside Tamara Georgijev until late in the half.

Czech Republic temporarily moved ahead to a three-goal lead at 12:9 before Serbia came storming back as others on their roster began to find the goal, and Krpez Slezak equalised with a penalty at 12:12 with just over five minutes left in the period.

A sudden flurry of goals from both sides ended the half with six goals in the space of a few minutes, though the score remained locked at half-time.

After the break the lead changed hands more than once. Czech Republic created a 23:21 advantage only for Serbia to close the gap in a matter of minutes to equalise at 23:23 with 15 minutes left.

At that point Serbia took control, and when they held a 27:25 lead with just over five minutes on the clock they had the opportunity to claim the two points.

But Czech Republic finished stronger, with a 3:1 run in the closing five minutes that allowed the guests to level the score with a goal from Veronika Mala.

The draw means both teams earn one point, putting Serbia on seven and Czech Republic on five at first and second place on the group table.

GROUP 5: Hungary vs Poland 25:26 (16:17)

Hungary entered the match knowing a victory would book their ticket to Sweden, while Poland came into the game eager to add to their points tally to avoid pressure later in the qualification phase.

Poland were slow to start, allowing Hungary to move ahead after 10 minutes with goals from Krisztina Triscsuk, Annett Kisfaludy and Zita Szucsanszki turning a 7:6 lead into a 10:6 advantage in less than three minutes.

Hungary consistently maintained a one to three-goal advantage as the clock ticked on, but Poland scored the last four goals of the half to find themselves in front as the half-time whistle blew.

Their lead did not last long however. The pattern through to the final 10 minutes was much the same as the first, with Hungary in front and Poland chasing.

At the 45-minute mark the home side led 22:20 and looked poised for victory, but Poland were not done – the visitors waited until the last 10 minutes before they grabbed the lead and refused to let go.

With just over two minutes left Patrycja Kulwinska scored her second to put Poland in front by two at 26:24, and though Hungary closed the gap to one inside the last minute, the visitors kept the advantage until the buzzer.

Poland are now on six points and move up to the top of the group table beside Hungary.

GROUP 7: Iceland vs Switzerland 20:19 (10:9)

Switzerland gave their hosts an early scare when they created a 7:4 advantage early on, leaving Iceland chasing for much of what was a tense but slow-scoring first half.

After trailing for most of the period, a late scoring run from Iceland enabled them to turn a 7:9 deficit into a level score at 9:9 within a matter of moments, before they secured a one-goal advantage at the break.

After half-time the teams took turns dominating in attack, with Switzerland the first to enjoy a 3:0 series that earned them the advantage at 12:11 before Iceland responded with a 4:0 run that took the score board to 15:12 in their favour.

But Switzerland answered and by the time the clock showed 45 minutes, the score was level once more, at 15:15.

After that point the tide began to turn in Iceland’s favour, as they created a two-goal difference at 17:15 that would prove crucial.

Switzerland reacted but though they trailed by only one goal they could not equalise again. Iceland held on to record a narrow win and pick up their first two points of the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Phase.

Both Switzerland and Iceland are now on two points behind group leaders France on eight and Germany on four.

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