Defending champions can earn main round berth in Round 2

PREVIEW: Title holders Germany, Spain, Denmark and FYR Macedonia can book their places in the next stage if they win their games on Monday

Hendrik Pekeler shoots for Germany during their opening EHF EURO 2018 match against Montenegro. Photo: Nebojsa Tejic

There were no surprises on Saturday for the big guns at the EHF EURO 2018, as Spain earned a record win, Germany took a clear victory over Montenegro, and Denmark’s experience helped them defeat Hungary. The one unexpected result was World Championship 2017 bronze medallists Slovenia’s loss to FYR Macedonia in Group C in Zagreb.

If Germany, Spain, Denmark and FYR Macedonia all take their second wins at the EHF EURO 2018, they will be through to the main round of the competition.

GROUP C, Zagreb
Slovenia vs Germany
Monday 15 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

While the Slovenians already have their backs against the wall after their unexpected 24:25 defeat versus FYR Macedonia, Monday’s match could see the defending champions secure their spot in the main round, following the 32:19 win against Montenegro to open their campaign.

Two years ago in Poland, the teams met in the final match of the preliminary round, when the losing team faced the prospect of going home – Germany won 25:21, went on to take the trophy, and Slovenia had an unexpected early departure from Wroclaw.

Since Veselin Vujovic has been at the helm for Slovenia, his side lost all five duels against Germany – at the EURO, at the Olympic Games, in a test match and in the EHF EURO 2018 qualification, when the Germans recorded two clear victories (32:23, 25:20) on the official debut of new coach Christian Prokop. “The time will come when we beat Germany,” Vujovic said after the second qualification encounter.

At the World Championship 2017, Vujovic’s side were more successful, winning the bronze medal, while Germany were eliminated by Qatar in the last 16. If Germany had won the last-16 match against Qatar, Germany and Slovenia would have locked horns in the quarter-final.

“Though we know how hard it is, we need to beat Germany if we want to gain a serious result here in Croatia,” said Slovenia’s Miha Zarabec. The centre back was awarded best player of the match against the Macedonians and will face three teammates from THW Kiel: Andy Wolff, Patrick Wiencek and Steffen Weinhold. Marko Bezjak also plays for a German club, SC Magdeburg.

“We started the EURO 2018 in a brilliant way. This is how we want to continue,” said team captain Uwe Gensheimer, who netted nine goals at 90 per cent against Montenegro.

Montenegro vs FYR Macedonia
Monday 15 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

The duel between neighbours might propel the Macedonians to the main round (in case they win) – or it could end Montenegro’s series of 13 EHF EURO matches since 2008 without a victory.

The game should have been the clash of two Balkan titans and EHF Champions League winners: Stojanche Stoilov (MKD) and Vuko Borozan (MNE), who both play for Vardar. But Borozan is ruled out by an injury after a car accident – a tough hit for Dragan Djukic’s side.

“We have to forget our opener and hope to improve,” said left back Milos Bozovic after the chanceless performance against Germany (19:32).

On the other hand, the Macedonians – who are expected to be supported by a clear majority of the fans in the stands in Arena Zagreb – are on a high after the 25:24 victory against Slovenia. “We withstood the pressure against Slovenia and hope to continue like this,” said top scorer of the match, Dejan Manaskov.

Funnily enough, the neighbours have never met in an official match before.

GROUP D, Varazdin
Hungary vs Spain
Monday 15 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Regardless of the result against Denmark, there were still positive signs for Hungary in the game against the Scandinavian powerhouse. Coach Ljubomir Vranjes’ hard work is starting to pay off, as a new Hungarian side is shaping up, with interesting talent on display.

However, Vranjes’ side needs to mix things up in attack, as they relied heavily on their back court, who scored 22 of Hungary’s 25 goals in the first game.

Hungary have failed to stop Spain in the last two mutual games that took place at the EHF EURO, with ‘Los Hispanos’ jumping to a 34:27 win four years ago in Denmark and a 31:29 victory in 2016 in Poland. Hungary are also currently on their worst ever streak in the tournament, with six consecutive losses, dating back to 2016.

On the other hand, Spain will achieve the main round berth with a win, after their overwhelming 32:15 victory against Czech Republic – their biggest ever at the EHF EURO and the second biggest ever in the competition’s history.

Centre back Raul Entrerrios will pass his brother, Alberto, as the player with the most EHF EURO appearances in Spain’s history, 45, on Monday.

It will also be a special game for Hungarian veteran Gabor Csaszar, whose first goal will be his 100th at the EHF EURO. The 33-year old veteran needs five goals to become his country’s top scorer in the competition, which would take him past Gergö Ivancsik.

Czech Republic vs Denmark
Monday 15 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

The math is simple and Denmark know it. A win against the Czech Republic will see them through to the main round, but they still have the big derby against Spain looming on the last match day.

As their opponents took their worst beating ever in the EHF EURO in the last game, 32:15 against Spain, it does not look like the Scandinavian side will have the same problems they had over the first 40 minutes against Hungary.

Denmark will have to tweak their defence, as the first match saw star left back Mikkel Hansen red carded after only 40 minutes, with three suspensions.

"The next game is going to be hard as well. We are focused on us 100 per cent, and we proved that if we give 100 per cent of ourselves and of our game, we can win it. We hope to prove that in the future," said Hansen after the win against Hungary.

Czech Republic need to reduce the number of turnovers in their game, after making 24 mistakes against Spain. A loss would not necessarily see Czech Republic out of contention, as the game against Hungary in the last round could be decisive for a main round berth.

“We have been unrecognisable against Spain and certainly we wanted to play better. We have one of the toughest groups in the EHF EURO, but still hope to present ourselves in better way," said Czech goalkeeper Tomas Mrkva.

The two sides have met three times at the EHF EURO, with the Czech Republic winning the first game in 1996, and losing the other two in 2002 and 2014.

written by Adrian Costeiu / Björn Pazen / cg