Commanding wins take Serbia and Sweden through

QUALIFICATION REVIEW 2: Croatia remain in the race for the EHF EURO 2018 after a crucial victory over Switzerland, while Serbia and Sweden book their tickets to France

Serbia's Diana Stevin on her way to score against the Faroe Islands. Photo: EHF

Before Group 3’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification matches on Wednesday, neither of the available places at the final tournament had been booked. Sweden and Serbia secured their tickets with decisive away victories, as the Scandinavian team defeated FYR Macedonia in Skopje and Serbia beat Faroe Islands in Torshavn.

In Group 1, Switzerland had the chance to make history and reach their first EHF EURO, however, they were far outmatched by Croatia. Switzerland’s only remaining hope is that Croatia lose to Ukraine and they beat Norway in Round 6 – but it seems more likely that Croatia will secure the required victory and take Group 1’s second ticket on Saturday.

Wednesday’s games ended with Czech Republic taking a narrow victory after a spectacular comeback from determined Iceland. Czech Republic will face Slovenia in Most on Sunday, in a match to decide who joins Denmark as the second qualifier from Group 5. 

Switzerland vs Croatia 16:33 (8:13)

Following Croatia’s win in the decisive match against Switzerland in Sursee, Group 1’s second ticket to France will not be decided until the last qualification round. Croatia won the Round 1 clash between these sides 32:28, hinting at the possibility of an exciting match on Wednesday night – but the visitors took a one-sided victory.

With the help of an outstanding performance from goalkeeper and player of the match Ivana Kapitanovic, Croatia had little trouble keeping their hosts under control. Kapitanovic’s game, which included a penalty save in the 18th minute, which kept her team 7:4 up, was a key factor in Croatia’s five-goal lead at half-time.

Switzerland returned from the dressing room with a clear yet manageable deficit against them – but the guests only increased their advantage, leading 22:12 as the final quarter began. At that point it was clear the two points would not stay in Switzerland.

FYR Macedonia vs Sweden 20:32 (7:16)

World Championship 2017 semi-finalists Sweden had little trouble controlling the match in Skopje from start to finish. After allowing their opponents only seven goals in the opening half, the Scandinavian visitors took a comfortable nine-goal lead into the break.

Sweden’s attack, led by their world-class centre back Isabelle Gullden, was too strong for FYR Macedonia’s defence, and the guests found gaps all over the court that allowed them to score on open breakthrough chances. When Sweden hit double digits on the score board, leading 10:3, it was already clear that they would go on to take the victory.

In the second period, the distance steadily grew in favour of the Scandinavian team – and at the final whistle they celebrated booking the first of Group 3’s tickets to the final tournament.

Faroe Islands vs Serbia 17:33 (11:17)

After Sweden recorded a dominant victory over FYR Macedonia to secure one of Group 3’s places at the EHF EURO 2018, Serbia followed their example.

When Serbia scored five unanswered goals before Faroe Islands found the back of the net for the first time, it was obvious that the visitors were not taking any chances with their ticket to the EURO at stake. A victory would secure Serbia’s place in France, and they put together a quality performance that reflected the reward waiting at the final whistle.

Once Faroe Islands scored their first goal, as the clock neared 10 minutes, the match became more competitive – but Serbia still held a commanding six-goal lead when the buzzer sounded for the half-time break.

Serbia coach Ljubomir Obradovic used every minute of the match to practice defensive formations and attacking options, as his team cruised to a 16-goal win and booked their ticket to France in style.

Iceland vs Czech Republic 24:26 (9:14)

What appeared like a one-sided encounter early on slowly evolved into a thriller, as Iceland never stopped fighting after a slow start to the match in Reykjavik.

The hosts fell behind 0:3 after five minutes and trailed 3:10 as the first quarter ended. From a 4:10 deficit at the 20-minute mark, Iceland closed the gap and came within two just with 20 minutes left to play. At that stage, the momentum was clearly behind the hosts, while the visitors’ defence struggled and goalkeeper Lucie Satrapova had difficulty without support.

Iceland were rewarded for their persistence when Ester Oskarsdottir scored a counter attack that pulled them within one for the first time (21:22) in the 51st minute. Goalkeeper Gudny Jenny Asmundsdottir followed with a penalty save from key Czech shooter Iveta Luzumova, then another on a fast break – and suddenly the visitors were under pressure.

However, they managed to withstand it and in the critical closing minutes, Czech Republic outscored their opponents 4:3 to claim a two-goal victory and set up a mouth-watering clash against Slovenia on Sunday.

written by Courtney Gahan / cor