Group II wide open ahead of critical clashes

GROUP II PREVIEW: On Tuesday, Spain, Slovenia, FYR Macedonia and Czech Republic battle for crucial points to remain in the race for a ticket to the medal round in Zagreb

The race remains completely open in Varazdin, with six teams still in contention for Group II's two semi-final places. Photo: Sasa Pahic Szabo

The situation is very interesting in EHF EURO 2018 Main Round Group II: With five matches still ahead, none of the four teams on court on Tuesday can book their semi-final tickets that day – and all six teams are still in contention. 

In the opening match on Tuesday, Spain can take a big step towards the next stage, but cannot cross the threshold in their match against Slovenia – who still have a chance even with only one point on the table. The same follows when FYR Macedonia take on Czech Republic, after losing sharpshooter Kiril Lazarov to injury in their previous match. 

GROUP II, Varazdin
Slovenia vs Spain
Tuesday 22 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

With only one point in their account after their opening main round defeat against Denmark (28:31), the pressure is on Slovenia, who must win both remaining matches against Spain and Czech Republic – and rely on other results.

The World Championship 2017 bronze medallists are a hard nut to crack, as Spain’s defence boss Viran Morros says: “This match is not going to be easy. We know that, and we have to prepare for a victory.”

The FC Barcelona Lassa star does not want to start making any calculations yet. “I don't want to think about the semis or what we can do. I know we have to prepare for the next game and win. After that it is going to be easier to predict our end goal at the tournament.”

After their dominant 31:20 victory against FYR Macedonia on Sunday night, the Spaniards have four points in their account. Due to an injury that ruled him out of the EURO, Slovenia right back Jure Dolenec will miss the duel against his Barcelona teammates.

Slovenia have won only one out of 12 matches against Spain so far in history. The most significant clash for these sides so far was the semi-final at the 2013 World Championship in Spain, when the hosts won 26:22, before raising the trophy two days later.

EHF EURO matches between Spain and Slovenia have a tendency of being true goal festivals: In no other European championship matches have Spain scored more than in the 40:32 result against Slovenia in 2010. There was also a total of 72 goals in the 2006 duel, won 39:33 by the Spaniards.

FYR Macedonia vs Czech Republic
Tuesday 22 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

FYR Macedonia were dealt a major blow to their semi-final chances when superstar Kiril Lazarov suffered a thigh injury. Coach Raul Gonzalez confirmed on Monday morning that the right back will miss the rest of the EHF EURO.

Without their goal machine and leader, the chances for the Macedonians to reach the next stage appear to be limited. With three points on the Group II table, they still have the chance to proceed (if they beat the Czechs and Danes) – as do Czech Republic, who must win their remaining matches to have a chance of qualifying for the penultimate phase. 

But for Czech Republic, the campaign is about more than reaching the semi-finals: “We are here to make our fans happy and go for another success. We only look on our match and not what might come or no,” said Jan Kubes after their opening main round defeat to Germany, which left the team on two points. 

The last EHF EURO duel between these teams ended in a draw – 24:24 in Denmark in 2014. In 2012, the Macedonians knocked the Czechs out of the running for the main round with a 27:21 victory in the preliminary round in Nis, Serbia.

Team captain Stojanche Stoilov is confident that the Macedonians can turn the tide on Tuesday: “We must gather ourselves back together. It was only one loss against Spain, our first bad game at this tournament. We are capable of that – first to achieve a win against Czech Republic, and then fight with mighty Denmark.”

written by Björn Pazen / cg