A Balkan derby for the EHF EURO hosts on their way to the World Championship
Aside from the spot to be decided between Spain and Sweden in the final on Sunday, nine tickets for the Men’s World Championship 2019 are up for grabs in Europe. On Saturday, the teams involved found out what lies ahead: In Arena Zagreb, the nine play-off duels were drawn by IHF Representative Frantisek Taborsky, EHF Secretary General Martin Hausleitner and Chairman of the EHF Competition Commission Bozidar Djurkovic.
The World Championship 2019 Play-off pairings are as follows:
Serbia vs Portugal
Lithuania vs Iceland
Czech Republic vs Russia
Slovenia vs Hungary
Belarus vs Austria
FYR Macedonia vs Romania
Netherlands vs EHF EURO 2018 runners-up (Spain/Sweden)
Norway vs Bosnia-Herzegovina or Switzerland
Croatia vs Montenegro
The matches will be played on June 8 to 10, and June 12 to 14, with the aggregate winners booking their tickets to the World Championship, which will be held from January 9 to 27 in Denmark and Germany. The teams listed first in the pairings above have the home right in the first leg.
The winner of tomorrow’s EHF EURO 2018 Final between Sweden and Spain will qualify directly for the World Championship. As there is an open legal case regarding the match Bosnia-Herzegovina versus Switzerland, which of these teams contests the play-offs will be confirmed at a later date.
So far, the host countries Denmark and Germany, defending world champions France, Egypt, Tunisia (from the African Championship), Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and South Korea (from the Asian Championship) have booked their tickets. The third African participant will be known on Sunday.
“These will be hammer matches”
EHF EURO 2018 hosts Croatia were drawn against Montenegro – and a whole region will be excited for this Balkan duel: “It could have been a better or a worse draw,” said President of the Croatian Handball Federation Tomislav Grahovac. “Montenegro have a top squad. We have to prepare well and have to be concentrated, as qualification matches can always be tough.”
Montenegro coach Dragan Djukic was in a state of shock: “There was no tougher team to face. Any other opponent would have been easier. Our only chance is that we have the second leg at home.”
“This will be anything but easy, the chances are 50:50. I guess, Russia were the toughest opponent you could get from the second pot,” was the reaction of Karel Nocar, team manager for Czech Republic, who just finished the EHF EURO in sixth position.
Like them, the Slovenians had hoped for more luck in the draw: “For the third straight time, we have to duel for a World Championship ticket with a real tough opponent – first Hungary, then Norway and now again Hungary,” said Goran Cvijic, Secretary General of the Slovenian Handball Federation. “Hungary have really invested a lot. These will be hammer matches.”
Serbia are aware of the challenge they face in Portugal: “They are an extraordinary opponent. It will be really tough to qualify. The fans can expect two great games,” said Mazlam Dzemailoski, International Secretary of the Serbian Federation, with the fact that Portugal eliminated World Championship 2015 bronze medallists Poland in the first stage of qualification in mind.
Romania also made it from qualification Phase 1. Cristina Varzaru, former women’s national team member, now Secretary General of the Romanian Federation, hopes for a surprise against FYR Macedonia: “In our situation, there was no easy opponent possible. I hope that our men’s team can make the next step, but of course, it will be really difficult.”
The Austrians hope to take revenge against Belarus, after they lost their crucial EHF EURO 2018 match against them and missed the main round: “We have the second match at home. This is our chance. But Belarus showed what they are capable of in Croatia,” said Austria coach Patrekur Johannesson.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg