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World Championship

Montenegro earn heroic World Championship berth

Adrian Costeiu / cg

Montenegro earn heroic World Championship berth

EHF EURO 2018 champions France, Russia, Netherlands and Romania were the four European teams that secured a place at the Women’s World Championship 2019 last December, while nine tickets were still up for grabs in the play-offs.

Denmark, Norway, Hungary, Germany and Montenegro clinched their berths in Japan on Wednesday, while the other four teams that will join them wait until their deciding games on Thursday to complete the table.

Montenegro sweated until the dying seconds of their game, as the tie against Czech Republic ended in a 49:49 aggregate score – but the 24 goals scored in the first leg were enough to take them through, as they tallied one more goal away than their opponents. 

Germany vs Croatia 25:21 (14:9)
First-leg result: 24:24, aggregate result: 49:45 

Back in Germany after narrowly missing the chance for a win in the first leg, the home side picked up where they left off, taking control of the game with an 8:6 lead after 14 minutes. Croatia tried to weather the storm, but faltered at the end of the first half, while the hosts were in a great position, 14:9, after 30 minutes. 

A 2:0 start for Croatia in the second half looked to prompt a comeback, but it did not materialise. Germany’s lead never dipped below three goals, and they ultimately sealed a 25:21 win that assured them an aggregate 49:45 result.

Switzerland vs Denmark 14:26 (5:12)
First-leg result: 22:35, aggregate result 36:61 

After a strong start in the first leg crumbled to a 22:35 defeat, the Swiss’ chances to proceed were rendered nearly non-existent. On paper, Denmark were more experienced and simply better than their opponents – and this translated onto the court, where the home advantage did not matter. 

Denmark had to wait five minutes for their first goal, but as soon as the gates opened, there was no way back. An unanswered 6:0 run cemented another easy win for Denmark, who cruised to a 12:5 lead at the break, after Switzerland mustered only one goal in the last 19 minutes of the first half. 

The home side only scored nine times in the second period, as Denmark powered their way to a 26:14 win that saw them earn a 61:36 aggregate victory. Kristina Jørgensen was Denmark’s top scorer, with six goals.

Norway vs Belarus 31:28 (21:11)
First-leg result: 34:21, aggregate result: 65:49

Playing for a Women’s World Championships berth was an unforeseen position for Norway, who disposed of Belarus in the first leg. When the two teams headed to Bergen for the rematch, it was more of the same on the Norwegian court, as the hosts of Thursday’s match were better, faster and simply unplayable for their opponents. 

A flawless start, underlined by nine unanswered goals in the nine first minutes, meant that the game was as good as over very early. Norway ploughed their way to a 21:11 lead at the break. 

With the qualification essentially assured, Norway did not force their way in the second half, only doing enough to secure a 31:28 win. Line player Kari Brattset was the game’s top scorer, with seven goals.

Montenegro vs Czech Republic 25:23 (12:11)
First-leg result: 24:26, aggregate result: 49:49

The raucous Montenegro fans in Niksic Arena celebrated their favourites with loud chants and bangs, and in a fiery clash, their team repaid the debt with interest. 

Montenegro had to sweat in the first half, however. The guests took an early lead, but the atmosphere helped Montenegro tie the game, with the hosts taking a 12:11 lead at the break. That lead was insufficient to clinch the World Championship berth, but the pressure was on the Czechs, as the home team’s experience was valuable and helped them open a crucial gap, 23:20, with seven minutes to go. 

The guests cut the score line to only one goal, 24:23, and the tension was enormous. It was line player Ema Ramusovic who scored the critical goal with one minute to spare. Montenegro earned a 25:23 win, qualifying by virtue of the away goal rule, off an aggregate score of 49:49.

Hungary vs Austria 28:19 (16:10)
First leg result: 41:23, aggregate result: 69:42

It seemed there was nothing Austria could do to change the outcome of the double header, as the heavy 18-goal defeat in the first leg was too much – despite Hungary coach Kim Rasmussen deciding to nurture as many young players in his side as possible in the return match. 

With safe passage to Japan already in the bag, Hungary were not so determined at the start, but nevertheless built a 5:3 lead after 12 minutes. Another Austrian collapse towards the end of the first half helped Hungary build a six-goal lead by the break, 16:10. 

There was no comeback from Austria, as Hungary easily found their way to the World Championship after a 69:42 aggregate win. 20-year-old right back Katrin Klujber was Hungary’s top scorer, with six goals.

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