Ukraine claim first win; Netherlands score 40

ROUND REVIEW 3: Women’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification Round 2 finishes with victories for Ukraine, Sweden, Spain, Netherlands and Serbia, while Slovenia draw with Czech Republic

Round 2 of Women’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification wrapped up on Sunday evening with the first victory for Ukraine, who beat Croatia in Group 1. Sweden, Spain, Netherlands and Serbia added their second sets of two points following away wins, while Slovenia and Czech Republic drew after a thrilling game in Celje.

Ukraine vs Croatia 26:22 (16:11)

Ukraine earned their first points of Women’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification with a strong performance against Croatia, where the advantage created before half-time proved crucial in the victory.

Croatia struggled to find their rhythm in the first period and it cost them dearly, as they saw Ukraine pull ahead to an 8:5 lead after 15 minutes before taking an advantage of five into the break.

Croatia improved their game, but Ukraine’s active defensive system made a comeback impossible. The hosts held a seven-goal lead in the 40th and, though Croatia threatened to come closer, were well on their way to victory when the distance remained at five (23:18) at the 50-minute mark.

The Round 2 result leaves both Croatia and Ukraine on two points, following Croatia’s win in Round 1 against Switzerland, still on zero. Norway lead the group on four points.

Faroe Islands vs Sweden 15:33 (10:19)

Another strong performance from Sweden earned the EHF EURO 2014 bronze medallists their second set of two points on the way to the final tournament in France.

Faroe Islands, playing in qualification Phase 2 for the first time in history, could not compete against the side with vastly more experience at major international tournaments, trailing by nine goals at the end of the first half.

The story of the game was set early, as Sweden took the advantage and never looked back. Isabelle Gullden pulled Sweden in front to 15:7 on a penalty shot in the 22nd minute, and the visitors added another two goals for a more-than-comfortable half-time advantage.

In the second period, Faroe Islands could only try to keep the score line as respectable as possible, settling for their second loss of the qualification phase at the final whistle.

FYR Macedonia vs Serbia 27:33 (15:14)

Led by nine goals from Katarina Krpez Slezak, Serbia joined Sweden at the top of Group 3 with four points following their second win in the qualification phase.

It took 40 minutes for Serbia to begin to create the decisive difference, as it was hosts FYR Macedonia who held the lead at the break.

The first half was equal, with almost all goals from positional play and penalties, and only one fast break from Serbia. Serbia temporarily pulled away to a two-goal lead midway through the period, but it was not until 10 minutes into the second half that their advantage stuck.

From 21:19, a save by Katarina Tomasevic paved the way for Serbia to open a three-goal distance. The visitors maintained a steady one to two-goal lead through to the final 10 minutes, before racing home to the buzzer to finish with a clear distance of six in their favour.

Slovenia vs Czech Republic 28:28 (15:14)

In Celje on Sunday evening, Slovenia and Czech Republic recorded the second draw of the qualification phase after a game that saw brief glimpses of hope for both sides.

The hosts took an early lead, holding a four-goal distance at 11:7 in the 20th – but their opponents did not allow the score line to remain. By half-time, Czech Republic had pulled the difference back to one.

Both teams had the chance to secure victory in the second half, as Slovenia created a three-goal lead before Czech Republic came back yet again. The visitors then took their turn seizing what could have been the decisive lead thanks to a 6:1 partial through a period of 10 minutes, but the hosts levelled the score for a thrilling end to the game.

Czech Republic now tally three points after two matches, while Slovenia have one.

Lithuania vs Spain 17:24 (9:9)

Lithuania continued their pattern of surprising favoured sides on Sunday in Alytus, playing a level game against EHF EURO 2014 runners-up Spain right through to the 50th minute. Despite the loss, Lithuania have proven they are not to be underestimated following a draw against Germany in Round 1.

Lithuania have made it to the final EHF EURO tournament only once, in 1996, while Spain are regular contenders for the top places at major international competitions. The odds therefore appeared to favour the visitors, but they could not shake Lithuania until the end of the game.

After an equal match, Spain found their best form at the crucial moment, turning a level score of 17:17 into the final result in the last 10 minutes to move up to the maximum four points.

The visitors were led by eight goals from Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa, while Lithuania’s Brigita Ivanauskaite tallied nine.

Kosovo vs Netherlands 12:40 (4:19)

The Netherlands’ victory away in Prishtina was never in question. Even before the Round 2 match began it was clear a win for the hosts, playing their first ever EHF EURO Qualification Phase 2, would be a significant upset.

The EHF EURO 2016 silver medallists took charge immediately, leading 5:1 after 10 minutes and 11:3 in the 20th.

Kosovo were only able to find the goal past the strong defence four times in the first half, and therefore used the match mainly to gain experience while Netherlands coach Helle Thomsen rotated her line-up.

At the final whistle, the Netherlands celebrated a commanding win and their second set of two points, which put them on four at the top of the table alongside Hungary. Kosovo remain on zero, level with Belarus.

written by Courtney Gahan / ew