Crunch matches to solve main round equations

PREVIEW: Showdown between EHF EURO 2016 silver medallists Spain and Olympic champions Denmark; Germany and FYR Macedonia meet for a crucial match to shape up main round Group II

Rasmus Lauge Schmidt during Denmark's match against Czech Republic, which ended in a surprise loss for the Olympic champions. Photo: Sasa Pahic Szabo

Groups C and D saw an action-packed, dramatic evening on Monday, as Germany drew with Slovenia, while Olympic champions Denmark lost to Czech Republic in the second EHF EURO 2018 Preliminary Round matches.

In the final preliminary games, there is no room for error for Denmark, who could find themselves with a poor base for the main round if they lose against Spain. The same applies for Germany, as the title holders need to snap FYR Macedonia’s two-game winning streak in order to top Group C.

In the other matches, Hungary will face Czech Republic in a decisive game for both teams, while Slovenia fighting with Montenegro for the last main round berth in Group C.

GROUP C, Zagreb
Germany vs FYR Macedonia
Wednesday 17 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Both sides have made it to the main round, so the final preliminary match is all about the number of points the defending champions and the Macedonians carry to Varazdin. Currently, the highly efficient Balkan side is on top of the group after two one-goal wins, while the lucky Germans took a very late draw against Slovenia to be on three points currently.

Depending on whether it will be Slovenia or Montenegro who join them in the main round, the number of potential points ranges from one to four for Germany and two to four for FYR Macedonia.

On paper, Germany are the favourites, as Kiril Lazarov & Co. have never beaten the two-time EURO champions. At the World Championship 2009 in Varazdin, a red card against Lazarov was crucial for the German win, and at the EHF EURO 2012 in Nis, a buzzer-beating goal from current team captain Uwe Gensheimer paved the way for the 24:23 result in favour of the Germans, who would have packed their luggage for departure in case of a defeat.

After their somewhat weak defence performance against Slovenia, Germany coach Christian Prokop reacted and ordered his usual defence boss Finn Lemke to Croatia, replacing Bastian Roscheck.

“The game is for first place, we will do everything to win. Germany are a really good team, and it could be an interesting game indeed,” Manaskov said after beating Montenegro 29:28.

On the other hand, Prokop hopes for improvement: “Hopefully, the match against Slovenia was something like a warning signal. This was an extremely lucky point. All the players hopefully know for whom the bells tolled,” Prokop said on Tuesday.

Several Macedonians play or played for German clubs, like goalkeeper Borko Ristovski (previously Rhein-Neckar Löwen), left wing Dejan Manaskov (previously Löwen and Wetzlar) and Filip Taleski (currently Löwen), Filip Mirkulovski (currently Wetzlar) and defence specialist Ace Jonovski (currently Ratingen).

Montenegro vs Slovenia
Wednesday 17 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

It is a do-or-die match when Slovenia coach Veselin Vujovic faces his compatriots. Montenegro are on the bottom of the group with zero points, but their first ever win at an EHF EURO would be enough for the ticket to the main round. For Slovenia, a draw is enough to proceed. If they qualify for Varazdin, they will take one point from their match against Germany (not more, not less) to the next stage.

Montenegro have clearly improved after their 19:32 loss against Germany and were close to a draw against the Macedonians. On the other hand, how the Slovenians cope with the unlucky draw against Germany will be crucial.

“It’s a very important match – we must take at least one point if we want to go to the next round. I’m sure we have quality if we play like against Germany and we have a big chance to beat Montenegro,” Slovenian right wing Blaz Janc said.

Two years ago, Slovenia had another do-or-die situation, with one point in their account prior to the last match of the preliminary round – but after a defeat at the hands of Germany, they had to go home.

The only time these sides met was at the EHF EURO 2008, when Slovenia took a close 31:29 win.

GROUP D, Varazdin
Czech Republic vs Hungary
Wednesday 17 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Hungary’s only chance to progress to the main round is to snap their record-breaking seven-game losing streak at the EHF EURO, which started two years ago in Poland.

They were competitive for 50 minutes in the games against Denmark and Spain before stumbling to defeat. Ljubomir Vranjes’ side must stay focused for the whole match against a team that produced the biggest surprise of the competition on Monday night.

Czech Republic avenged their 17-goal opening loss against Spain with a heroic performance versus Denmark, taking an unexpected victory over the Olympic champions, 28:27.

“Hungary are big favourites in this match, but we will try to play as well as we did against Denmark and win the last game in the group," said goalkeeper Martin Galia, who boasts an impressive 41 per cent save rate overall.

But in a bizarre twist, the Danish side are through to the next phase, while a loss against Hungary could see the Czech team out of the competition.

“We need to prove ourselves and the game against Czech Republic is the best way to show that we are a good team,” said Hungary centre back Mate Lekai, who is his team’s top scorer in the competition, with nine goals after the first two games.

Another centre back, Gabor Csaszar, is still four goals short of beating Gergo Ivancsik’s Hungarian record at the EHF EURO. The 33-year old, who plies his trade for Kadetten Schaffhausen, scored his 100th goal in the loss against Spain.

The two sides have met three times at the EHF EURO, with Hungary winning the first two games, while Czech Republic earned a 33:26 win in the preliminary round of the EHF EURO 2010.

Spain vs Denmark
Wednesday 17 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

This is a crucial game for Denmark in terms of their chances in the tournament. A win against Spain could see them start the main round with four points, while a loss would seriously hamper their chances for a semi-final berth.

Only one thing is sure: Nikolaj Jacobsen’s side needs to vastly improve from their lacklustre performance against the Czech Republic, which saw the underdogs run away with one of their most impressive EHF EURO wins ever.

“The cool, and the general overview of the game were gone. What happened today is unthinkable!” said a visibly annoyed Denmark coach Nikolaj Jacobsen after the game.

Denmark have clearly had some problems focusing in the tournament so far, with star Mikkel Hansen in hot water after receiving a red card in the first game against Hungary and two suspensions against the Czech Republic. However, Hansen has still been the top scorer for his side, with 13 goals in two matches.

The game, featuring the current Olympic champions and EHF EURO 2016 silver medallists Spain, is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the preliminary round. This will be the fifth consecutive EHF EURO that features a match between these sides.

Denmark won the last meeting in Wroclaw at the EURO 2016, and defeated Spain in the semi-final at the EHF EURO 2012 – a tournament won by the Scandinavian team.

"We played against them so many times and these matches are always very interesting. They are one of the best teams in this championship and it will be tough,” said Spain right back Alex Dujshebaev, who scored four times against Hungary.

written by Björn Pazen / Courtney Gahan / cg