It was a case of hard-fought wins for two sides in their EHF EURO 2018 Qualification Round 5 matches on Thursday evening, as both Russia and the Netherlands had to work to claim their respective victories over Portugal and Belarus. With the wins, Russia remain in the race to book one of Group 4’s tickets to the final tournament, while the Netherlands clinched their berth.
Hungary also celebrated the Netherlands victory, as they are now safely in the top two positions with Belarus no longer able to equal their points tally.
While the Netherlands and Russia had some difficulty, Germany put on a classy performance headlined by outstanding defence and a great game from goalkeeper Dinah Eckerle.
2016 Olympic champions Russia have had a highly unpredictable EHF EURO 2018 Qualification campaign, entering their Round 5 encounter versus Portugal with only four points - representing two victories - in their account. Though they finished with a commanding six-goal win in Sines, it was not an easy game for Evgeny Trefilov’s side.
Olympic MVP Anna Vyakhireva was at her best as she led Russia’s attack with numerous breakthrough goals, but she – and the rest of her teammates – also made uncharacteristic errors, including two missed penalties in the first half. Their defence was motivated and fought for every ball, though at the half-time break, Portugal were clearly winning the contest between the posts with a 21 per cent save rate to Russia’s 12 per cent.
Russia finally created the decisive advantage as the last quarter approached, pulling ahead to 22:19 then 27:20 in the 50th minute, at which point it was clear they would take the two points home.
Germany made their surprise Round 1 draw versus Lithuania – 26:26 in Oldenburg in September 2017 – a distant memory as they cruised to a commanding victory that secured their place at EHF EURO 2018. Lithuania scored the first goal in the encounter, but it did not take long for the visitors to claim the advantage.
Once they did so, Germany were in firm control, keeping their opponents from reaching the 10-goal mark until the 44th minute when Jurate Zilinskaite scored (18:10). It was Germany’s defence that was the decisive factor, as they did not score a high number of goals themselves, but left their hosts with few attacking options.
Though the distance was only four goals at the break, Germany’s strength was clear to see, and there was no question they would take the two points. At the final buzzer, Germany celebrated a 14-goal victory and can look forward to their 13th EHF EURO participation.
This match was far from the comfortable one EHF EURO 2016 runners-up the Netherlands might have expected. After winning their first qualification clash against Belarus 33:21, the Netherlands had something of a scare on Thursday night, when they found themselves against a determined opponent they could not cast off.
It took the visitors 25 minutes to create a modest two-goal lead (14:12) and they held a three-goal advantage at half-time that Belarus quickly destroyed when the match resumed. In the 35th minute, the hosts were back within one (18:17), with their attack working efficiently against the Netherlands flat 6-0 defence.
The Netherlands may have started to feel comfortable when they reached a 26:21 lead with 15 minutes left, but Belarus came back once again. With seven minutes remaining, the home team still had every chance of levelling the game – but the Netherlands’ experience pulled them through to a narrow victory in the end and, with it, a ticket through to EHF EURO 2018.