France look for fifth consecutive victory, Sweden in must-win situation

GROUP I PREVIEW: France and Sweden are facing teams who are already out of contention for a semi-final berth, while superstar Nikola Karabatic reaches a milestone

Sweden are in a must win situation ahead of the game against Belarus. Photo caption: Uros Hocevar

Nikola Karabatic will level the record of his coach, Didier Dinart, as the player with the most EHF EURO appearances ever for France, when they take on Serbia on Monday in Arena Zagreb. It will be a special game for Karabatic, as he was born in Nis, the third biggest city in Serbia, before moving to France as a child.

In the second match of the evening, Sweden must avenge their loss against France with a win versus Belarus, in what is a make-or-break game for the Scandinavian side.

France vs Serbia
Monday 22 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

The only team with an immaculate record of only wins at the EHF EURO 2018, France, will edge closer to their objective if they take their fifth victory when they meet Serbia on Monday night.

The sides have met twice in their history, with both games won by France. Both matches took place in EHF EURO Preliminary Rounds; the last ending in a 36:26 rout for the French side in Group C in Krakow, Poland in 2016. In 2014, the result was closer, though France still took a 31:28 win.

It will be a significant game for French superstar Nikola Karabatic, as the only male to be named IHF World Handball Player of the Year three times will play his 57th EHF EURO game. Karabatic will, therefore, level the record of his coach, Didier Dinart, as the player with the most appearances at the EHF EURO.

But it is not only a milestone match for Karabatic – it is also special for the PSG ace, as he was born in Nis, Serbia.

The Serbia team have nothing but pride to play for, as they are already out of contention after the loss against Norway. But they will surely put up a fight, as they did in all previous games at the EHF EURO.

Taking the four matches that count toward the main round table rankings into account, France have the best goalkeeper at the EHF EURO. Showstopper Vincent Gerard records an overall rate of 41 per cent, with 51 saves. Gerard impressed against Sweden in particular, when he had an amazing 19-save match for 55 per cent efficiency.

Sweden vs Belarus
Monday 22 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

If history could serve as the indicator, then Sweden would already be the winners against Belarus. The Scandinavian team have won all five of the mutual games against their upcoming opponents, including a 41:22 rout one year ago, in the round of 16 at the World Championship 2017.

It is a crucial game for Sweden, who will be in a strong position to secure a semi-final berth if they sweep Belarus and Norway in their last two games – as they own the tiebreaker against Croatia following a victory over the hosts in the preliminary round.

However, after two wins in a row, the Scandinavian side collapsed against France on Saturday, keeping the game tight for 45 minutes before suffering a 17:23 defeat.

"We have to come back now and play even better. After the game we lost against Iceland, we came back and did well against Serbia in the preliminary round. I hope that we can be even better in achieving our goals in the main round phase," said Mikael Appelgren, one of the best goalkeepers in the competition, with a 38 per cent save rate after four games.

Belarus are already out of contention for a semi-final spot, as their only win came against Austria in the preliminary round. But they showed serious grit against Croatia, when the score was level with one minute remaining in their opening main round match.

"It will be very tough game against Belarus. They played very tight against Norway and France, so I am expecting very tough game," said Sweden right back Albin Lagergren.



written by Adrian Costeiu / cg