While Denmark and Ukraine are the only teams to play their first match this week, all other pairings of Round 4 in the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 Qualification are the second match of the doubleheaders that are played since 26 March on the way to the final tournament in Hungary and Croatia in December 2014.
On Saturday France and Russia can follow Norway and clinch their berth for the final tournament. For both teams a draw will already be enough to book the EHF EURO tickets.
Group 1: Austria vs. Lithuania; Saturday, 20:25 hrs. local time in Bregenz
First leg: 31:28
The three players who are currently topping the qualification top scorer ranking face again in Bregenz.
Austrian Beate Scheffknecht tops the list with 29 strikes, followed by Lithuanian Laima Bernataviciute (27) and another Austrian, Sonja Frey (24).
After their close away win at Lithuania on Thursday, Austria can make a huge step towards the EHF EURO just 50 hours later by winning the second encounter as well.
In this case, the Baltic team would definitely be out of the race for the final tournament – and Austria can clinch their berth in the match against Ukraine in June.
Group 1: Denmark vs. Ukraine; Saturday; 21:15 hrs. local time in Kolding
Due to the political situation, the first match of this double-header, which was supposed to be played in Ukraine on 26 March, was postponed to June.
Therefore those two teams are the only ones to have only one match in March, but three in June.
Denmark have reasonably bad memories about matches against Ukraine, as they were beaten in the World Championship 2007 play-offs by the team of Leonid Ratner – which also meant back then that the Danes as Olympic champions missed the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
But things have changed, and the young Danish side – which is in full preparation already for the World Championship 2015 on home court – is the favourite and furthermore boosted by the bronze medal they won at the World Championship 2013 in Serbia.
A win opens the gate to the final tournament in Hungary, as the team of head coach Jan Pytlick would keep its their clean record with the maximum of six points.
Group 2: Slovakia vs. Finland; Saturday, 18:00 hrs. local time in Michalovce
First leg: 27:25
They were about to stumble, but eventually Slovakia cleared the ‘Finnish hurdle’ and won 27:25 at Vantaa on Wednesday.
As another win is a must for the hosts to keep their chances to qualify for the final tournament and as they are warned by the run-down of the first leg, Slovakia are arguably the favourites to win this reverse fixture.
If Slovakia win, it they will be fighting with Iceland for the second rank in this group. Thi battle is likely to be decided when Iceland face Slovakia at home in June.
Group 2: France vs. Iceland; Saturday, 17:30 hrs. local time in Limoges
First leg: 27:21
After their more or less dominant win against Iceland on Wednesday, France can book their EHF EURO ticket already with a draw on home court on Saturday.
However, France are known for being extraordinarily motivated when playing in front of their fans, and they will definitely go for a win against the young Icelandic side, which is still hit hard by injuries.
France have the maximum of six points on their account, while Iceland have only beaten Finland so far.
A surprise victory would boost their chances to proceed to the final tournament, but under the current conditions this seems quite unrealistic.
Group 4: Turkey vs. Italy; Saturday, 17:00 hrs. local time in Cankaya
First leg: 22:21
After a real thriller in the first leg, the Turkish side is confident to take a double-win in the double-header with Italy, knowing that there might be a slight chance to hope for their first ever EHF EURO campaign.
Italy were opponents on eye level, but things look different in away matches.
Group 7: FYR Macedonia vs. Russia; Saturday, 17:45 hrs. local time in Skopje
First leg: 23:36
Just as for France, a draw is already enough for Russia to book their EHF EURO ticket in what is already last match in this qualification.
If they win, the chances are good to become group winners. However, the direct encounter with Germany, who face FYR Macedonia in June, might prove decisive.
After the clearest of all results of Round 3 FYR Macedonia are licking their wounds, but hope for a major boost of confidence by their frenetic audience in Skopje.
A win is only possible if they improve in defence.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts