Battle for main round spots returns to Varazdin and Osijek

PREVIEW: The EHF EURO returns to Croatia on Wednesday as the first teams in Groups C and D can clinch their berths to the main round in Zagreb

Photo: Henk Seppen

Under certain circumstances all three main round tickets going to teams from Group C can be distributed in Varazdin, while potentially two more can be added from Group D in Osijek.

If the game between Monday's winners Sweden and Netherlands ends up in a draw and if at the same there is a winner in the second game between Croatia and Germany, the losing side from this match would have to settle with an early exit.

It cannot go that quick in Osijek though. Montenegro and France can both book early tickets for a trip to Zagreb if they took their second wins, but whatever happens, the last main round ticket will only be awarded on Friday.

Group C - Netherlands vs Sweden, Wednesday, 18:00 hrs

The winner of this encounter will grab a main round ticket. If they share the points and there is no draw in the game Croatia vs Germany, even both teams can celebrate.

However, no team will rely on this calculation as there is more at stake for the winner. As both teams are now expected to reach the next stage, they will take points from this direct encounter to Zagreb and this promises to make up for a great attacking show.

"Sweden are the number one team in this group normally. I think we will play against another 6-0-defence. They have strong players. We have to bring our speed and creativity into the game and then we will see where Sweden stands after the game," Dutch coach Henk Groener said.

Group C - Croatia vs Germany, Wednesday, 20:15 hrs

The loss against Sweden (28:30) was the first defeat in an official match for Croatia in Varazdin, and the EHF EURO co-hosts have to do all it takes to prevent second loss as otherwise their dream of reaching the medal round could face an abrupt end.

No matter what the result of the first game between Sweden and the Netherlands will be, the evening clash will be a do-or-die affair for both Croatia and Germany.

The two rivals are very familiar with this situation as they battled for the main round passage two years ago in Novi Sad during the EHF EURO 2012.

Back then a last second save of German goalkeeper Katja Schülke prevented Germany from being knocked-out as they sent Croatia home instead.

This time Germany will rely on the top form of a different goalkeeper - Clara Woltering, who was the main reason why Germany lost to the Netherlands only by three goals (26:29).

"We failed in our defence. It was not strong enough, it was not aggressive enough. Netherlands did not surprise us with anything, it was because our defence was bad," the goalkeeper said after the loss to Netherlands.

To lose the EHF EURO opener is nothing new for Germany as this was the third consecutive first match they lost at the continental championship.

However, if they stun the hosts it will be quickly forgotten and they might be reinforced as right Susann Müller has joined the team and Tuesday's training session will decide whether the Györi Audi ETO KC placer has fully recovered from her finger injury.

Croatia's top scorer of the first game Andrea Penezic expects another tough fight.

"It will be a very strong and tough game, but we have to be ourselves and have to play our game and relax a little bit because we have a lot of support. We play at home and we have to win it!"

Group D - Slovakia vs Montenegro, Wednesday, 20:15 hrs

The defending champions Montenegro play a key match that will secure the main round berth in for them in case of a win, as they face a brave Slovakian team that showed they were no pushovers against France, despite a 18:21 loss.

After their shaky results in the preparation including a double-loss to Coratia, the EHF EURO 2012 winners proved all doubters wrong in the derby with Serbia (22:19).

Despite the win, which was more convincing in the way it was achieved than the final result shows, Montenegro coach Dragan Adzic still sees a room for impovement.

"I think that my team can improve in every single segment. Actually we have to play better, if we want to win against Slovakia which played a great match against France."

Even for Slovakia coach Dusan Poloz it was a pleasant surprise to see his players giving medal contenders France a good run for their money.

"The first half performance was the best handball I have seen from my team since I joined it," Poloz said after the game."

Group D - Serbia vs. France, Wednesday, 18:00 hrs

Amidst their on-going injury woes Serbia seek their redemption against France, who will hope to produce a much better performance than in their match against Slovakia (21:18).

After a tough loss against rivals Montenegro (19:22), Serbia will find solace in the fact that the injury of Dragana Cvijic is not that serious.

Early scans show no fracture in the hand of the quintessential line player, although it is still uncertain if coach Boskovic will find her fit to feature against France.

The fact that Lekic is back in the team will significantly boost the chances of Serbia to record their first win at the Women's EHF EURO 2014 in a bid to make up for the 22:19 loss against Montenegro.

France had to deal not only with a stubborn resistance of the tournament's biggest outsiders, but also with pressure coming from their role of favourites.

"In the match against Slovakia we've felt too much negative pressure, but I think it will pass with time, continuing to play, as all the things pass," France coach Alain Portes says.

"In the last tournament (World Championship) Serbia was better than us. They are the runners-up of the world, so it is obvious that they are favourites.

"It is normal that they will want to react after yesterday's defeat against Montenegro. Their players come from big European clubs, accustomed to this pressure, and we respect them.

"We will have to fight a lot tomorrow."

written by Vladislav Brindzak / ts


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