France clinched the berth for the EHF EURO 2018 Main Round without having to resort to full power. Two days after their great comeback against Norway (32:31) in their opening match, the world champions did not have to give all they could to beat Austria 33:26 (17:12).
Just as he was against Norway, goalkeeper Vincent Gerard (nine saves during his 30 minutes on court, through the first half) was a cornerstone of the victory, alongside Timothey N’Guessan. N’Guessan finished as top scorer with seven goals to earn the best player of the match award.
“Today’s French side was the best ever second team I have ever seen. French controlled the game from the first minute," said Austria coach Patrekur Johannesson. "We played well, we never gave up. France have great players and will finish among the first four teams here.
“Our players showed character, and they got a chance to learn and develop today. Those matches bring our players ahead, even if they cause mistakes.”
France’s defence cleverly focused on Austria’s top star Nikola Bilyk, who did not have the space to reach his usual level. In general, the Austrians were not brave enough in attack and missed many chances – and could never endanger their opponents.
The world champions started without their stars Nikola Karabatic (who did not play at all), Kentin Mahe, Cedric Sorhaindo and Nedim Remili, as Didier Dinart gave his youngsters the chance and time to play. In the Austria team, Thomas Kandolf had his EHF EURO debut, as he replaced injured Alexander Herrmann.
The Austrians had to change their defence early, as line player Wilhelm Jelinek received a red card after hitting Adrien Dipanda in the face. Despite this shock, Austria’s defence was still better than their attack.
France forged ahead from 8:6 to the already decisive 17:12 half-time score – and then marched over Austria, extending the gap easily to 22:15 after only 37 minutes. Austria’s last man standing in that period was goalkeeper Kristian Pilipovic.
“We played a very good match with a very good start, and we played seriously until the end. We wanted to prepare for the match against Belarus, so we had many changes,” said N'Guessan.
N’Guessan, Remili and Dika Mem were on fire, while Austrian coach Patrekur Johannesson began to give time to those from the bench, like Julian Ranftl, who scored his first EHF EURO goal.
When tall left wing Raphael Caucheteux finished a counter attack to put the score at 30:20 nine minutes before the end, it was the first double-figured advantage for France. They then shifted down a gear in the final stages, allowing Austria to decrease the gap and goalkeeper Thomas Bauer to make some more saves.