Switzerland, FYR Macedonia and Iceland take first points

QUALIFICATION REVIEW 3: Switzerland and FYR Macedonia celebrate their first points with wins against Ukraine and Faroe Islands, Germany shock Spain on Groener’s debut, and Slovenia and Iceland draw

Switzerland took valuable points in the EHF EURO 2018 Qualifiers, beating Ukraine 21:15. Photo: Swiss Handball Federation

The first day of Women’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification Round 3 matches came to an end with a draw between Slovenia and Iceland after a nail-biting 60 minutes in Reykjavik. The result saw Slovenia move up to two points with what is their second draw in the qualification phase, while Iceland claimed their first point.  

Switzerland and FYR Macedonia also took their first points of the qualification phase, as they each won the opening leg of their double headers. Both teams recorded decisive wins, with Switzerland celebrating at home versus Ukraine and FYR Macedonia beating Faroe Islands away.

In Group 6, Germany earned an unexpectedly large victory, defeating Spain by nine goals in the first official match with new coach Henk Groener at the helm.

Switzerland vs Ukraine 21:15 (9:7)

Group 1 is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in the qualification phase. Switzerland collected their first points on Wednesday night, joining Ukraine and Croatia on two points, while defending champions Norway top the table with six. The group is the only one where all four teams have taken a victory, which puts the three sides after Norway under significant pressure.

Though the score board showed a six-goal win for Switzerland at the end of the match, the home team’s victory was not one-sided. Switzerland scored the first goal of the game and never relinquished the lead, but they could feel the threat from Ukraine until the final minutes.

After a two-goal gap at the break, Switzerland saw their advantage shrink to 14:13 with 13 minutes remaining. 10 minutes later, as the final time-out of the game was called, the distance was at three for the hosts – and Ukraine still had the chance to cause an upset. But Switzerland returned from the pause to record a 4:0 partial that secured a decisive win.

Faroe Islands vs FYR Macedonia 15:22 (7:7)

FYR Macedonia moved into third on the Group 3 table with an away victory that puts them in a strong position with the prospect of the return-leg match against Faroe Islands at home on Sunday. Despite the clear final score line, it was far from an easy win for the visitors.

After a close first quarter, a 3:0 run turned the level game into a three-goal lead, 7:4, for Faroe Islands. But just when it seemed the home team were establishing their strength, FYR Macedonia responded with a 3:0 partial of their own, equalising the match by half-time.

The second half started with a one-for-one contest, before FYR Macedonia created a two-goal gap. Yet nothing was decided, as the last 10 minutes began with a 16:14 advantage for the visitors – a lead that was far from comfortable.

Finally, it was a 6:1 run in the final minutes that decided the two points, as FYR Macedonia left their hosts behind and steadily increased the gap until the final buzzer sounded.

Iceland vs Slovenia 30:30 (16:17)

Iceland were clearly motivated to secure their first points of the qualification phase in front of their home crowd, scoring the first goals before Slovenia made their way onto the board. It was a masterful performance from the home team, who fell behind by up to four goals in the first half – but always came fighting back.

A great game from goalkeeper Hafdis Lilja Renotudottir helped Iceland keep Slovenia’s power shooter Ana Gros under control, which was an obstacle for the visitors as they attempted to take control. Renotudottir’s fellow keeper, Gudny Jenny Asmundsdottir, had her turn to make an impression in the second half – and her saves were key as Iceland turned a 23:25 deficit into a 27:26 lead as the last five minutes of the match began.

After a tense end to the game, where neither team could shake the other, the squads settled for a draw that saw them split the points.

Germany vs Spain 33:24 (16:13)

Spain had a far better start to the match in Stuttgart than their hosts, pulling in front to 7:4 while Germany worked hard to find their rhythm in what was new coach Henk Groener’s official debut. Slowly, the home team decreased the early deficit, taking the lead for the first time off a penalty goal that put the score at 10:9.

After holding a three-goal advantage at the break, Germany opened the second half with a 5:1 run that saw Spain fall behind 14:21 by the 40th minute. Germany’s faster attack, undoubtedly influenced by Groener’s well-known tactics during his time as coach of the Netherlands, was difficult for Spain’s flexible 6-0 defence to stop.

The visitors were allowed a brief period of hope when they decreased the distance to five at the 45-minute mark (24:19) – but that was as close as Spain would come, as Germany reopened a commanding advantage with another one-sided partial. When the hosts led 29:19 with eight minutes remaining, it was clear the two points would stay in Germany.

written by Courtney Gahan/jh