When the second match day of the extremely close EHF EURO 2018 Main Round Group II in Varazdin wraps up on Sunday night, the fog might have lifted in terms of the semi-final participants. First, the two two-time EHF EURO champions, Germany and Denmark, clash, then the winners of preliminary round Groups C (FYR Macedonia) and D (Spain) will take the court for their opening match of the second stage.
GROUP II, Varazdin
Germany vs Denmark
Sunday 21 January, 18:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com
The duel of the neighbours – defending EHF EURO champions versus the current Olympic champions – is a classic in international handball. Germany and Denmark have locked horns no less than 107 times (including test matches), with Germany taking 60 wins and Denmark 34, while 13 matches since 1936 ended in a draw.
Two years ago, this duel on the final day of the main round in the Polish city of Wroclaw decided the semi-final berth. After being behind close to the end of the crucial match, Germany turned the tide, took a 25:23 win and qualified for the semis, while Denmark bowed out of the medal race.
In Varazdin, there will be no secret tactics or line-ups, as the sides know each other very well. 12 of the 16 Danish players are signed by German clubs, and their national team coach Nikolaj Jacobsen is the mastermind behind Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s two German league titles in his parallel job. “But Nico is always creative, so we are aware of some unexpected things,” says Patrick Groetzki, who plays for Löwen.
“Due to their individual class, the Danes are in the favoured role for this match,” Germany coach Christian Prokop underlined in a media call on Saturday morning. “We only have a chance if we come as a team, and if our goalkeepers Silvio Heinevetter and Andreas Wolff remain on the level they had against the Czechs.”
On the Danish side, Niklas Landin Jacobsen – a teammate of Wolff’s at THW Kiel – and Jannick Green Krejberg (Magdeburg) have proven their value, too. “The duel between the posts will be crucial,” says coach Jacobsen. “The same is valid for the speed of the match. If we manage to continue scoring many easy goals through counter attacks, it will be hard to beat us.”
Both sides enter this game with four points – while the defending champions are still unbeaten after two preliminary round draws against the Slovenians and Macedonians, along with their wins versus Montenegro and Czech Republic, Denmark were defeated by the Czechs. But both started their main round campaigns victorious, as the shaky, but lucky Germans took a 22:19 victory against Czech Republic, before Denmark beat Slovenia.
Prior to the duel of the joint hosts of the Men’s World Championship 2019, Germany announced another player replacement: left back Maximilian Janke is out, Rune Dahmke, one of the EHF EURO 2016 champions, is in to support Uwe Gensheimer as second left wing.
FYR Macedonia vs Spain
Sunday 21 January, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com
On paper it is clear, but the current situation is definitely not. Though Spain have won all five previous duels against the Macedonians, the base at the start of the main round is different: The Balkan side are still unbeaten after the preliminary round (their longest run in EHF EURO history) and have three points in their account – one more than Spain.
As in the case of Germany versus Denmark, the teams are very familiar with each other. The Macedonians count on a Spanish-born coach, Raul Gonzalez. On a club level at Ciudad Real, Atletico Madrid and now Vardar, he has coached four of his upcoming opponents: Joan Canellas, Viran Morros De Argila and the Dujshebaev brothers, Alex and Daniel.
“Aside from their father Talant, I was their [Alex and Daniel’s] first ever handball coach. And still, the boys are more than just players for me – the whole Dujshebaev family are true friends,” says Gonzalez, who was Talant’s assistant at Ciudad Real and Madrid. Talant’s advice to hire Gonzalez was the reason Vardar signed him.
The match will also be a duel of EHF Champions League record winners FC Barcelona’s goalkeepers, Gonzalo Perez de Vargas (ESP) and Borko Ristovski (MKD). In addition, Macedonian legend Kiril Lazarov played in Spain for seven years before he transferred to Nantes last summer – and has been a teammate of many members of their opponents’ line-up, either at Madrid or Barcelona.
Last but not least, Joan Canellas still plays for Vardar, while Alex Dujshebaev left the Macedonian champions after winning the EHF Champions League in June 2017 to join his fathers’ side Kielce. Filip Taleski (MKD) and Gedeon Guardiola (ESP) play together for German team Rhein-Neckar Löwen, whose jersey Dejan Manaskov (MKD) also wore until last season. Gonzalez is to become the new club coach of Spain goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales and Morros when he moves to Paris Saint-Germain after the 2017/18 season.
Ahead of the battle or preliminary group winners, both sides are focused on defence, with Gonzalez and Perez de Vargas expecting a match with an overall of approximately 50 goals. One crucial tactic could be seven-against-six, which the Macedonians successfully implemented in their draw against Germany.
In terms of injuries, the only open point is whether Spain line player Julen Aguinagalde will be ready after his back injury. This decision will be taken after the final training session leading up to the clash.