France under pressure to deliver

GROUP I PREVIEW: Serbia are the last main round hurdle for hosts France as three teams still hope to join group winners Russia in the EHF EURO 2018 Semi-finals

Hosts France are one of three teams in the race for the second semi-final ticket in Group I. Photo: Uros Hocevar / kolektiff

The home crowd in Nantes’ Hall XXL will be expecting nothing else than a semi-final berth from the France team when the last matches of the EHF EURO 2018 Main Round take place on Wednesday.

While France are in a strong position to grab the second semi-final ticket in Group I after Russia qualified on Monday, there are still two other teams in with a chance.

If Montenegro and Sweden win their earlier matches, they will put France under pressure to at least draw against Serbia in the last game.

Denmark vs Montenegro
Wednesday 12 December, 15:45 CET, live on ehfTV.com

Montenegro might have entered the main round with zero points, but they are still in the race for a medal after back-to-back wins against Sweden (30:28) and Serbia (28:27).

In the early match on Wednesday, against already-eliminated Denmark, Montenegro must take their third straight victory to leapfrog France in the standings and keep the dream alive for at least a few more hours.

Montenegro impressed against Sweden and came back from behind against Serbia, a victory which coach Per Johansson called “very important” for the team.

“We want to play in Paris,” the Swedish coach said.

Of course, if Montenegro were to miss the semi-finals, they would still be a contender for third place in the group — and thus a trip to France’s capital for Friday’s match for fifth place.

Sweden vs Russia
Wednesday 12 December, 18:00 CET, live on ehfTV.com

A year ago, Sweden reached the top four of the World Championship. Their ambition to repeat that feat at the EHF EURO 2018 suffered a serious blow when they lost to Montenegro in their main round opener.

The Scandinavians vastly improved for their next match against France. They were never behind against the world champions, but still ended up with a draw.

Their slim chance to reach the semi-final will only be alive if Montenegro lose the earlier game against Denmark — and France are defeated in the final match of the day. In any case, Sweden must beat Russia to stand any chance.

According to left back Jenny Alm, her team will give everything to get the win: “We have to go all in for Wednesday.”

Sweden might hope that Russia are going to take it a little bit easy, as the group winners are qualified for the semi-finals.

Russia opted for a similar scenario in their last match of the preliminary round, when they were already guaranteed of a main round spot before surprisingly losing to Slovenia.

Serbia vs France
Wednesday 12 December, 21:00 CET, live on ehfTV.com

When French coach Olivier Krumbholz sends his team onto the court for the very last Group I match, against Serbia, his players will know exactly what they have to do.

Depending on the earlier results from the games involving Montenegro and Sweden, the hosts might be under a lot of pressure — or not at all. If their rivals for the semi-final place have not won their respective matches, France will know they are already through to the medal round even before throw-off. Otherwise, France will have to avoid a defeat against Serbia.

“We still have our destiny in our hands for the semi-finals,” said centre back Allison Pineau.

Earning a draw or even a win against the already-eliminated Balkan team should be a doable task for the hosts, who have so far only dropped points against Russia (a 26:23 defeat in the EURO 2018 opener) and Sweden (21:21 draw in the main round), while recording an impressive three-match winning streak in between.

Also, the team will not want to disappoint the home crowd in the pulsating Hall XXL, where they will be expected to say farewell to Nantes with a strong display and a commanding victory.

written by Eric Willemsen / cg