Everything open for semi-final race in Varazdin

GROUP II PREVIEW: Germany and Czech Republic meet in the first match for main round Group II on Friday, while Denmark hope to add to their strong record against Slovenia

Czech Republic's Ondrej Zdrahala enters the main round as the top scorer of the EHF EURO 2018. Photo: Sasa Pahic Szabo

Two years ago, the EHF EURO 2016 finalists Germany and Spain, as well as Denmark, started their main round group in Wroclaw, Poland as favourites. Now, based on points, the situation looks similar.

However, before the start of the second stage in Varazdin, Spain coach Jordi Ribera says: “There is no main contender for the semi-finals – all teams have equal chances.”

None of the six opponents in Group II bring four points to the main round, and none bring zero. On the first match day, two teams with two points each – Germany and Czech Republic – open the main round, followed by the duel between Denmark (two points) and Slovenia (one).

GROUP II, Varazdin
Germany vs Czech Republic
Friday 19 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Though the base is equal, the opinions prior to the opener are very different: “After we did not take the optimum of four points to the next stage and after how we played against the Macedonians, we should not start talking about the semi-finals,” says Silvio Heinevetter.

The Germany goalkeeper secured the 25:25 draw in the last match of the preliminary round with a spectacular save: “We definitely let another point slip from our hands, which makes it much harder in the main round.”

On the other hand, there was pure happiness for Czech coach Jan Filip: “After the 15:32 against Spain, nobody bet on us anymore. In 40 hours, we changed everything. It was unbelievable how my players beat Denmark and Hungary. For us it a dream. We hope it keeps going on like this.”

Filip, who, like his co-coach Jan Kubes (also co-coach for German club Emsdetten), played in the German Bundesliga many years, can count on the current top scorer of the EHF EURO 2018. Ondrej Zdrahala is on an overall of 25 after his 14 against Hungary – four ahead of Germany’s top scorer, Uwe Gensheimer (21).

Including test matches, these sides have clashed 20 times so far. Germany were the victors 15 times, Czechs won on three occasions and two matches ended in a draw – but the more recent history is in favour of the Czechs. In 2013, a 22:24 defeat in the EHF EURO qualification in Brno was one reason Germany did not qualify for the final tournament in Denmark.

One year before in Nis, Serbia, Germany were defeated 24:27 in their EHF EURO 2012 opener. Two years earlier, a 26:26 result in the EURO Main Round in Innsbruck saw the only draw between them in the history of the competition.

Slovenia vs Denmark
Friday 19 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

One versus two – in terms of points taken from the preliminary round. The Danes have a small advantage at the start, but for coach Nikolaj Jacobsen, this means nothing: “This EHF EURO shows that every team has a chance, everybody can beat everybody. I guess, at the moment, all six teams have more or less equal chances of making it to the semis.”

While Slovenia have only made it to the EHF EURO Semi-finals once – on home ground in 2004 – before going on to take the silver medal, the Danes have made seven semi-final appearances on the continental level so far; an achievement crowned with two trophies, in 2008 and 2012.

After their sensational defeat against the Czechs, the Olympic champions clearly increased their chances with a deserved and hard-earned 25:22 victory against Spain. Slovenia took their biggest ever EURO win in the last preliminary match, against Montenegro, to book their main round berth, after a defeat to the Macedonians and a draw versus Germany.

Right wing Gasper Marguc is haunted by the results in the first two matches: “We are even more sorry that we didn't win against Germany and Macedonia, as those games were so close in result. But if we continue to play like we played in the last two games, we can beat anybody.”

The last time these sides met saw a clear result in favour of the Danes: The 37:30 against Slovenia in the quarter-final at the 2016 Olympic Games propelled the champions to the penultimate match. On EHF EURO ground, the last match dates back 10 years, but is another good omen for the Danes, as they beat Slovenia in their final main round match 28:23, and went on to claim their first European trophy.

The game will see Danes Rene Toft Hansen and Niklas Landin face their THW Kiel teammate Miha Zarabec.

written by Björn Pazen / cg