Nine teams have the chance to secure their places at the Women's EHF EURO 2018 in round 5: Switzerland, Serbia, Sweden, Romania, Austria, Slovenia, Spain, Netherlands and Hungary. For most, the ticket to France depends only on the result in their match; for others, the berth will come down to the results of other games in their group – and the decision could even be prolonged until round 6.
Still more teams may not be able to qualify for the EHF EURO 2018 in Round 5, but face must-win situations if they hope to keep their chances of reaching the final tournament alive.
Round 5 therefore represents two days of crunch matches, with the pressure high and historic results – both positive and negative – likely.
Switzerland vs Croatia – Wednesday 30 May, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
History could be made in the clash in Sursee on Wednesday: If Switzerland win, they will qualify for the EHF EURO for the first time ever. It would be the first major international tournament for Switzerland, as they have never qualified for the World Championship or Olympic Games either.
“It would be the biggest ever success for the Swiss women’s team,” Switzerland right wing Karin Weigelt told ehf-euro.com in an exclusive interview in May. “Already now, the interest is growing among fans and media. We are fighting hard to get into the spotlight, to raise the interest in women’s handball and handball in general.”
Currently on four points behind already qualified defending champions Norway, Switzerland will move up to six if they defeat Croatia – and leave the EHF EURO 2014 co-hosts with only a shred of hope to book a place at the final tournament in France, as they would need to finish as the best third-ranked side overall.
FYR Macedonia vs Sweden – Wednesday 30 May, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Nothing is decided in Group 3. Sweden and Serbia lead the table with six points apiece, while FYR Macedonia are right behind with four. The showdown in Skopje is certain to be a tough challenge for Sweden, with what will certainly be a passionate crowd against them, but if the EHF EURO 2014 bronze medallists manage a victory they will be the first to clinch their berth from this group.
If FYR Macedonia win the match, they will move up to six points – and everything will be on the line for both Sweden and Wednesday’s hosts when they take the court for their round 6 encounters.
Sweden won the first clash, in round 1, with a decisive result of 38:26, so appear to have the upper hand – but the home advantage could prove a key ingredient for FYR Macedonia to cause an upset.
Portugal vs Russia – Thursday 31 May, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
As the current Olympic champions, who count many players that contested the Women’s EHF FINAL4 (mainly with Rostov-Don) in their squad, it is quite a shock that Russia are currently third-ranked in Group 4. With four points that place them behind Romania and Austria on the table, Russia are looking at the very real possibility of missing a place at the EHF EURO for the first time in history.
With a talented squad led by experienced coach Evgeni Trefilov, it seems Russia will be able to find the right recipe to climb the table rankings and book one of the group’s places at the final tournament in France. But they are under pressure – especially playing away in Portugal, where history has shown the home-court advantage is significant for both men’s and women’s national and club teams.
However, as Portugal have not managed any victory so far in the qualification phase, and Russia won the first encounter between these sides 32:25, the Olympic champions appear to have a good chance of taking the two points and setting up a decisive clash versus Austria in the last round.
“The two final selection games for Europe will be a good school for our girls, but we cannot play on equal terms with teams of the same level as Russia and Romania, although we have made progress,” Portugal head coach Miguel Pereira told the official website of the Russian Handball Federation in an interview in May.
Austria vs Romania – Thursday 31 May, 20:25 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Group 4 is certainly one of the most competitive ahead of Round 4. Alongside Russia’s must-win situation, a ticket to the final tournament will be on the line when Austria and Romania take the court in Innsbruck.
With both sides currently on six points, the victorious team will become the first in the group to book a place in France. In case of a draw, all the decisions will come down to the final round of matches.
Romania beat Austria by 11 goals, 36:25, in the Round 1 clash between these sides, making the World Championship 2015 bronze medallists the favourites to claim the two points and secure their place at the EHF EURO 2018. But the fact that the first match was played in Romania should be considered – perhaps Austria will be able to turn the tables.
Slovenia vs Denmark – Wednesday 30 May, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
EHF EURO 2016 semi-finalists Denmark are one of only three sides already qualified for the final tournament in France, alongside Norway and Montenegro. Slovenia are in a battle with Czech Republic for the second ticket from Group 5.
With four points, Slovenia are one ahead of Czech Republic, who they will meet in the last round of matches.
If Slovenia defeat Denmark in Celje on Wednesday, and Czech Republic lose to Iceland in Reykjavik, then Slovenia will celebrate qualification for the final tournament. In all other cases, Group 5’s remaining ticket will come down to the Round 6 clash between Slovenia and Czech Republic in Most.
Wednesday’s match is set to be a thrilling encounter, with Slovenia counting two members of the recently announced EHF Champions League 2017/18 All-star Team in their midst: right back Ana Gros and best young player Tjasa Stanko. Behind Serbian Katarina Krpez Slezak with 35 goals, Stanko and Gros are also the next two top scorers of the EURO Qualification phase, with tallies of 28 and 27, respectively.
Remaining matches in round 5:
Ukraine vs Norway – Wednesday 30 May, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Faroe Islands vs Serbia – Wednesday 30 May, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Iceland vs Czech Republic – Wednesday 30 May, 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com