DAY REVIEW: Russia secured top spot in Group 1 by defeating Slovakia for their fifth straight win, while the Netherlands overtook Belgium again atop of Group 5 in the first qualification stage for the Men's World Championship 2019
Russia first to reach play-offs, Netherlands go back on top
Already a strong favourite to take the World Championship 2019 Qualification Play-off berth from Group 1, Russia lived up to their billing and prevailed over Slovakia (32:26) on Thursday to lock up the top spot.
In Group 5, the Netherlands got their nose back in front with an expected win (28:25) in Greece.
Finally, Group 3 got underway in Bozen where Ukraine easily beat Faroe Islands (30:22) before hosts Italy fell well short against Romania (34:24).
Slovakia vs Russia 26:32 (11:15)
Russia became the first team to book a World Championship Play-off ticket following a convincing win over Slovakia.
The visitors took the lead early on, only for goalkeeper Michal Shejbal to keep a glimmer of hope alive for Slovakia with fantastic saves.
Russia played an effective 5-1 defence around Timur Dibirov but a packed arena in Povazska Bystrica motivated the hosts.
But numerous technical faults halted Slovakia’s progress. Hit by injuries, Heine Ernst Jensen’s side could not keep up with the more experienced Russians.
Finland vs Luxembourg 30:25 (13:13)
Finland remain third with three points, Luxembourg last with one point. Russia host Finland and Slovakia travel to Luxembourg for the final group matches on Saturday.
Ukraine vs Faroe Islands 30:22 (17:13)
Ukraine cruised past Faroe Islands to throw off the Group 3 tournament in Bozen, Italy.
The Ukrainians were dominant from the start as they developed a 6:2 lead after 10 minutes.
Faroe Islands found some rhythm soon after but could not close the gap and trailed by four goals at half-time (17:13).
Artem Kozakevych made impact on the wing with seven goals for Ukraine, while Sergyi Onufryienko added six from the back court to lead Ukraine to victory.
Igor Chupryna, the Tatran Presov goalkeeper, was a reliable stopper to provide a consistent support for the defensive line.
The second half looked very similar to the first part with Ukraine prevailing at both ends of the court.
Romania vs Italy 34:24 (18:13)
Romania fulfilled their role of favourites in the match against the hosts and prevailed following a consistent performance throughout the game.
Alexandru Simicu inspired his team with 10 goals from the back court as Romania built a five-goal lead in the first half (18:13).
Italy tried their best but failed to keep up with Romania, where Simicu was unstoppable and firing from different angles.
Romania and Ukraine share the lead with two points while Italy and Faroe Islands are still on zero.
On Friday, Romania take on Faroe Islands before Italy fight for their last chance against Ukraine.
Greece vs Netherlands 23:28 (14:15)
After Belgium beat Turkey on Wednesday to lead the group overnight, the Netherlands were determined to fight their way back to the summit ahead of the crucial decider against their southern neighbours in Sittard on Sunday.
However, it was a hard fight for the Netherlands in Thessaloniki. ‘Oranje’ took the lead from the beginning, but failed to convert their chances to get into more comfortable position.
Greece fought bravely and Dimitrios Tziras gave the hosts even a brief lead (16:15) in minute 32 with one of his 11 goals in total, but that was the much-needed wakeup call for the Netherlands.
Four goals in a row between the 42nd and 52nd minute brought smiles back on their faces.
Netherlands top the group with eight points. Belgium trail by one and must win their duel on Sunday. Any other result will hand the Netherlands the play-off ticket from Group 5.
Greece and Turkey were both already out of contention.
TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / ew
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