Thanks to a dominant and concentrated performance, Norway left no doubt when they secured their EHF EURO 2018 Main Round ticket in Porec on Tuesday night. The 39:28 (18:14) victory equalled their biggest win ever at the EHF EURO, after the 32:21 against Russia at home in 2008. 39 goals was also the highest score ever for the Norway men’s team at EHF EUROs, ahead of their 37:27 result against Portugal in 2006.
"Speed was our focus. We wanted to run a lot and score easy goals, and we did it today, so I am proud of my team," said Norway coach Christian Berge.
On the other hand, after what was the biggest defeat in their EHF EURO history, Austria remained on zero points and will leave Croatia after the preliminary round. Alongside the Norwegians, Belarus were happy with the result, as they finished third in Group B and therefore qualified for the main round thanks to the two points in their account.
After many missed chances and somewhat disorganised attack, the Austrians were out of the race quite early. While Norway’s attack was as precise as Swiss clockwork, Austria’s defence was as porous as Swiss Emmental cheese. The World Championship silver medallists easily forged ahead to 15:8 in minute 23, as Austria’s attack made a number of technical mistakes and missed even more chances.
The Scandinavians (who had replaced former Bregenz player Espen Lie Hansen with Joakim Hykkerud due to stomach problems) lost control of their game on their own, lacking the concentration they had shown before. Thanks to some great shots from Nikola Bilyk, the Austrians managed to reduce the gap to an intermediate difference of three goals.
But still, Norway had the better individual skills, and profited from their wing and counter attack goals – mainly from their top scorer Kristian Bjornsen (nine goals, awarded best player) and Magnus Jondal.
At 22:14 the deal was sealed, and though everything was all but said and done, the match became extremely tough in the middle of the second half: First Janko Bozovic and, only seven seconds later, Vytautas Ziura received direct red cards – for Ziura even a combination of red and blue. At the same time, on the other side, two Norwegians were on the bench due to suspensions. Therefore, there were intermediately only four court players for each team.
One positive, remarkable moment for the Austrians – besides Bilyk’s world-class performance with nine goals – was Robert Weber’s strike for 18:24, which made him the nation’s new EHF EURO record scorer with 60 goals, as he passed Viktor Szilagyi.
In minute 53, the distance had increased to double figures at 35:25. Thus, Austria failed on their last goal: to finish 13th on the final EHF EURO ranking, in order to avoid being part of Pot 2 at the draw event for the World Championship 2019 Play-offs on January 27 in Zagreb.
"It hurts because the whole team gave their best, but it's easy to explain: At this moment we are just not good enough to compete with teams like France or Norway. It's not easy for us, but we are going to learn from our mistakes and try to play batter next tournament," said Bilyk. "I think we have a lot of potential as a team. We are very young, so I hope in a few years we return to this place and do better."