Sweden are still on the hunt for an EHF EURO 2018 Semi-final berth, their first after 16 years, following a 29:20 (16:11) victory against Belarus. The Scandinavian side must wait for the last day of main round matches to see if they will proceed to the penultimate stage.
"We made a lot of easy goals, I believe. The goalkeeper had a lot of great saves. But I believe we had too many chances from situations like those. We had like six-goal advantage the whole time. Everytime they came closer, Palicka saved our goal today. We have to thank him," Swedish winger Hampus Wanne said.
Sweden needed at least one win in the last two main round matches to remain in the semi-final race. They played to their strengths in the first 10 minutes, with a flurry of fast breaks putting Kristjan Andresson’s side in a comfortable position at an early 6:2 lead.
But Belarus came back, reducing the gap to only two goals, 9:7, thanks to a 3:0 partial – and it was up to Sweden goalkeeper Andreas Palicka to put a stop to the challenge. The Rhein-Neckar Löwen keeper had an amazing first half, with a 50 per cent save rate after stopping 11 of the 22 Belarusian shots, as Sweden jumped to a healthy 16:11 lead at half-time.
Complete game for Palicka
Sweden endured a minor scare when they failed to score in the first five minutes of the second half, as Belarus cut the gap to only two goals, 16:14.
But Palicka soon picked up where he left off and shut down the Swedish goal, spurring a 4:0 partial during which he also scored a goal. The 31-year-old goalkeeper finished the game with 20 saves and received the best player of the match award.
That proved to be the decisive moment of the game, as the young Belarusian side would never recover from that point. With Sweden counting a total of 13 players on the score sheet, they cruised to a 29:20 win.
''We tried to play fast, we were losing concentration. It was our fifth match, everyone is very tired. We made a lot of mistakes and we made Palicka the best player of the match. We did not convert several key shots, which resulted in this goal difference in the end. If we played how as good as we are capable of, it would have been better," Belarusian winger Dzianis Rutenka commented.
Sweden are now on six points, equal with Croatia, and are only two points behind group leaders France. The Scandinavian side are a contender to qualify for the semi-finals, but nothing will be decided until all of Group I’s main round matches are finished on Wednesday.