Montenegro take fifth straight win; Romania qualify for France

QUALIFICATION REVIEW 4: Romania secure their place at the EHF EURO 2018 with a hard-earned victory versus Austria, Poland defeat Italy and Montenegro continue their winning run.

Photo: Austrian Handball Federation (OEHB)

Romania joined the list of teams qualified for the EHF EURO 2018 when they defeated Austria in Innsbruck in one of the last Round 5 matches on Thursday evening.

The World Championship 2015 bronze medallists thereby moved up to eight points in Group 4 and cannot be passed by Austria or bottom-ranked Portugal on the table ranking.

Austria now face a must-win match versus Russia in Round 6 with a draw enough for the Austrians to secure second place in the group and a space in France, while Russia must take a victory to avoid missing the EHF EURO for the first time in history.

Montenegro maintained their winning run and kept the maximum number of points in their account following a victory over Slovakia, which left their opponents on four points in third place in Group 2.

Also, in Group 2, Poland recorded a commanding victory against Italy, moving them to six points – but it was not enough to secure their place at the final tournament. The Round 6 match between Poland and Slovakia will decide which team qualifies for the EURO alongside Montenegro.

Slovakia vs Montenegro 24:27 (10:11)

Undefeated group leaders Montenegro faced another tough challenge from Slovakia, who they beat by one goal, 24:23, in Round 1. The first half saw the teams taking turns scoring multiple goals in succession before a one-for-one battle began.

Montenegro just held the edge through the latter stages of the half, always scoring first and leaving their hosts to equalise, and opened a more decisive gap when the match resumed. Led by an eight-goal performance from centre back Milena Raicevic, Montenegro created a lead of four by the 40th minute and maintained the same edge as the clock passed 50 minutes.

Slovakia played a strong match themselves, with a well-organised, fast-paced attack – but Montenegro were just that little bit better. When Jelena Despotovic took the visitors to a six-goal advantage (23:17) with just over five minutes on the clock, the outcome was clearly decided.

Italy vs Poland 25:33 (8:16)

Considering Poland defeated Italy 40:13 in the opening EHF EURO 2018 qualification round back in September, they were the clear favourites to earn a second victory versus their hosts on Thursday night and take their points tally to six.

After 15 minutes, the scoreboard showed a 9:2 lead for the visitors – and though Italy improved their game as the clock ticked on, they were simply outmatched.

At half-time the hosts had yet to reach the 10-goal mark, while Poland held a comfortable advantage of double their opponents’ score. Poland coach Leszek Krowicki used the time to try different defensive systems, experimenting with a very offensive 5-1 formation, as his team had little trouble taking an eight-goal victory.

Austria vs Romania 25:28 (11:13)

Just like Russia and the Netherlands earlier on Thursday, Romania were the favoured team which recorded a victory – but had to work hard to do it.

Facing a superb goalkeeping performance from Petra Blazek, Romania had difficulty creating a clear advantage, though they held an edge most of the match.

As is usual for Romania, their opponents’ defence focused on three-time IHF World Handball Player of the Year Cristina Neagu, but the likes of Eliza Buceschi and Melinda Geiger proved yet again that they can cause problems on their own.

Unfortunately for Romania, Geiger received a red card for hitting Blazek in the face on a penalty, and Austria capitalised on the loss by closing the gap from 20:23 at that point to level at 24:24 with five minutes left.

Romania keeper Denisa-Stefania Dedu made a crucial penalty save in the 56th minute – her third of the match – keeping her team ahead 25:24 and when Austria lost the ball with their last chance to level, the guests capitalised for Laura Chiper to score the winning goal.

written by Courtney Gahan/amc