Four teams battle for one semi-final ticket

GROUP II PREVIEW: Spain, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovenia aim for one semi-final berth on the final match day in Varazdin, which ends with a rematch of the EHF EURO 2016 Final

It's crunch time in Group II and the last three matches could hardly be more interesting. Photo: Sasa Pahic Szabo

The very last EHF EURO 2018 Group II match on Wednesday night will decide which teams travel from Varazdin to Zagreb to play for the medals and fifth place. With Denmark the only team of the four semi-finalists confirmed out of both main round groups so far, no less than four Group II teams still have the chance to take the second main round ticket.

The rematch of EHF EURO 2016 Final between defending champions Germany and Spain will decide everything. If there is a winner in this duel, they will clinch the semi berth. If the match end in a draw, Slovenia or Czech Republic can make it to Zagreb.

GROUP II, Varazdin
Slovenia vs Czech Republic
Wednesday 24 January, 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Both sides won their matches on Tuesday, both sides want to be the one to book the place in the semi-finals – if Germany and Spain draw some hours later. A draw between Germany and Spain is the only chance these sides have to make it to the semi-finals.

For Czech Republic (four points), the combination of a win and a draw in the later match is enough. For Slovenia (three points), there is another factor at play – that the Macedonians do not beat Denmark.

While Slovenia have been EHF EURO semi-finalists once – on home ground in 2004 – the best Czech result was sixth in 1996.

Slovenia are confident after their 31:26 win against Spain on Tuesday, while Czech Republic won a thriller against the Macedonians, 25:24, thanks to goalkeeper Tomas Mrkva, who saved a penalty at the final buzzer. “We have to play with clear heads and strong hearts,” said Slovenia centre back Miha Zarabec, pointing out that his side might have a little more power due to their two additional hours of rest.

“We only have 18 hours to regenerate, but Slovenia are in a similar position,” Mrkva says, adding: “We need to be on a high level to beat them.” On Wednesday, Mrkva’s goalkeeper teammate Martin Galia will equal current national team coach Jan Filip as the Czech Republic’s record holder for most EHF EURO appearances, as he will reach a tally of 31 matches.

The overall balance for both sides is quite equal, with five Czechs wins and four for Slovenia; at EHF EUROs, the record is 2:1 for the Slovenians. The last duel dates to the EHF EURO 2010, when Czech Republic took a 37:35 win in a goal parade in Innsbruck, Austria.

FYR Macedonia vs Denmark
Wednesday 24 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Despite the miracle comeback of their top star Kiril Lazarov against the Czechs, who was injured in their previous match and ruled out of the EURO, the Macedonians left the court empty-handed on Tuesday night. The result of 24:25 – their second straight main round defeat after the 20:31 against Spain – ended all hopes of their first ever EHF EURO Semi-final participation, as they are the only team in Group II out of the race.

Watching this match on TV in the team hotel, Denmark (six points) were extremely happy, as the result propelled the 2008 and 2012 European champions to their eighth EHF EURO semi-final. In contrast to the Macedonians, who lost a lot of energy in Tuesday’s thriller, the Scandinavians had a rest day.

Despite being confirmed as semi-finalists, Denmark still have a goal: finishing on top of the group. But when the final buzzer in Varazdin sounds, they will have to wait to find out which team they face in the next stage, as the final Group I match between France and Croatia will start at 20:30 – and decide it all in Zagreb.

A main round win against FYR Macedonia was the cornerstone for a EURO trophy for the Danes once before: In 2012, in Belgrade, a lucky 33:32 victory opened the gate for the semi-final berth and then the title. The Scandinavians have won all four duels with the Macedonians.

Germany vs Spain
Wednesday 24 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

The clash of the titans will be the icing on the cake – and the match to decide it all. After the Spaniards let a better base for the group ‘final’ slip from their hands, when they were defeated 26:31 by Slovenia on Tuesday, they enter the last main round match equal with Germany on four points (and Czech Republic), setting up a classic do-or-die encounter.

The winner takes it all, the loser is likely to even miss the 5/6 placement match on Friday. In case of a draw, and a draw in the earlier match between Slovenia and Czech Republic, Spain are through to the semi-final. On the other side, only a victory is enough for Germany, who have the advantage of a two-day rest after their 25:26 loss to Denmark – their only defeat at this EHF EURO, and the end of a 10-game winning series that began in 2016.

After the Germans won the EHF EURO 2016 Final in Krakow 24:17 (making up for a 29:32 defeat to Spain in the preliminary round), the sides played two friendly matches at the end of October 2017 in Germany. Again, each team took one win: First Spain 26:24, then Germany struck back 28:24.

In the overall balance, including all test matches, Spain are ahead with 33 victories, while Germany won 26 times, and five matches ended in a draw. Despite this record, the overall goal difference is clearly in favour of the Germans (1524:1414).

The duel will see some club reunions, as Germany captain Uwe Gensheimer and Spain goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales play for Paris Saint-Germain, and Spain line player Gedeon Guardiola will face his German Rhein-Neckar Löwen teammates Patrick Groetzki and Hendrik Pekeler.

While the Germans (European champions in 2004 and 2016) are aiming for their sixth EHF EURO Semi-final, the Spaniards (four-time silver medallists, in 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2016) have the chance to make it to their eighth.

written by Björn Pazen / cg