Defending Women’s EHF EURO champions Norway added their third win of the qualification phase on Wednesday night, as they defeated Croatia with a commanding performance that kept the Scandinavian side alone on top of Group 1 with six points. Serbia also moved up to six points, and with that, first place in the Group 3 table, as they pulled off a spectacular comeback victory against Sweden.
Slovakia and Belarus earned their first wins of the qualification phase in very different circumstances, as Slovakia secured a one-goal victory after a tense 60 minutes versus Italy, while Belarus were dominant against Kosovo.
The defending Women’s EHF EURO champions Norway were the strong favourites heading into the encounter in Zagreb, and they lived up to expectations, taking control of the game from the very start. After opening the match with a 4:0 scoring run, the Norwegians effortlessly created an unassailable lead they maintained until the final buzzer.
A great performance from goalkeeper Katrine Lunde paved the way for Norway’s trademark fast breaks and counter attacks. The record EHF EURO title holders even hit a 10-goal lead more than once in the opening 30 minutes and with the clear difference at the break, the game seemed already decided.
Thorir Hergeirsson’s team had little trouble keeping the match under control in the second half, though Croatia fought bravely to keep their visitors from extending the gap. Nevertheless, the hosts could not stop the Scandinavian team from taking a one-sided seven-goal victory, which moved them up to six points at the top of Group 1.
Italy vs Slovakia 20:21 (8:6)
Slovakia earned their first points of the qualification phase after an exciting match during which the lead alternated between sides, with the victors trailing by two at half-time.
Following a slow start that saw them fall behind by two goals, Italy fought back to come within one as the last 10 minutes of the first half began. Backed by a full arena of vocal supporters, the home team finished the period strong, taking a two-goal lead into the break.
But the match was far from decided. Slovakia did not allow their hosts to pull away, and as the clock passed the 45-minute mark, the score was level at 14:14. A tense final quarter followed, with neither team able to create a decisive advantage until the visitors pulled two in front at 20:18.
That two-goal cushion was enough for Slovakia to hold on through the closing minutes and secure their first two points in the process.
Fans in Nis were treated to a thrilling 60 minutes, where Sweden held the upper hand through most of the match before Serbia took command, claiming a decisive win no-one could have predicted at half-time.
QUICK PICK: #Serbia goalkeeper Katarina Tomasevic denies @hlandslaget any chance of coming back late in their Women's #ehfeuro2018 Qualification Phase 2, Group 3 match earlier today which the home side won 30:23 in Niš. #handballissime pic.twitter.com/GY66BUwBFR
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) March 21, 2018
Serbia were first on the scoreboard, but after that initial 1:0 lead, the hosts did not see an advantage again until the end of the match as Sweden quickly took control, relying on fast-breaks as their strongest weapon.
Through the first 30 minutes, the Scandinavian visitors steadily increased the scoreline, holding a 7:3 advantage midway through the half and leading by six at the break. But Serbia coach Ljubomir Obradovic clearly found the right words to inspire his side during half-time, as the hosts returned for a dominant second period.
Sweden held their last advantage at 22:20, before Serbia turned the game completely on its head with an incredible 10:1 partial to finish the game.
Kosovo vs Belarus 22:31 (8:16)
Belarus celebrated their first points of the qualification phase with a well-deserved victory over Qualification Phase 2 debutants Kosovo. 10 minutes in, the visitors had yet to allow their hosts a goal, while they created a 3:0 advantage which stretched to 5:0 as the home team Head Coach Tomaz Cater called a time out.
His Kosovo side faced a tough challenge as they worked hard to make their way past Belarus’ defence, and it was not until the visitors had scored eight goals that the hosts found the goal for the first time. At that point, it seemed the two points were already decided as Belarus only had to maintain their level to keep the clear advantage.
Early in the second half, Belarus reached their first 10-goal lead, though Kosovo fought hard through the second 30 minutes, recording a much closer score of 14:15 for that half, but the damage from the first period was too great and the visitors easily held on to claim the first win of the double-header clash.