PREVIEW: Eight teams are vying for two places in the next round of the EHF EURO 2022 Qualifiers as tournaments in Luxembourg and Malta throw off this weekend
"EHF EURO 2022 is a must for us"
Although the Men’s EHF EURO 2022 is still a long way off, the tournament reaches its first milestone this weekend as Luxembourg and Malta with the first phase of qualifiers.
Eight teams playing in two groups will compete for the two places that ensure progression to the next phase of the qualification process.
The winners will qualify for the “relegation round”, which will also feature the three lowest-ranked teams among the fourth-ranked teams from the Men’s EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers.
The six teams that fail to qualify will get a second chance to progress for the next phase at the IHF Emerging Nations Championship in June 2019, in a location that will be chosen in the next months.
GROUP A (in Luxembourg)
Luxembourg are the favourites to win the group, as they are by far the most experienced side and will have a home advantage.
Placing seventh at the 2017 Emerging Nations, Luxembourg have also been a constant presence in the qualifiers for previous Men’s EHF European Championships.
They failed to progress to qualification phase 2 of the EHF EURO 2020 after a 24:26 loss against Italy which erased the 24:23 win against the Italian side Luxembourg enjoyed in the first game.
But now, the hosts are ready to secure victory on their home court, after winning two friendly games against USA, 32:25 and 27:26, in the first days of 2019.
Ireland featured in the qualifiers for the 2014 and 2016 EHF EUROs, suffering a series of heavy losses with the closest match a 16-goal defeat against Belgium, 28:12.
Bulgaria finished fifth in the 2017 Emerging Nations, two places above Luxembourg, after winning their head-to-head tie 37:31. However they have not played the EHF EURO Qualifiers since 2012 and have not won a match at this stage since 2008.
The group is completed by Great Britain, who played in the qualifiers for the 2012, 2014 and 2016 tournaments. Their only win in that time was a 33:32 victory against Bulgaria in the EHF EURO 2012 Qualifiers.
GROUP B (in Malta)
The fourth-placed team at the 2017 Emerging Nations, Cyprus, have been set a challenge by their coach Andreas Andreou. Andreou suggested that anything other than first place in the group would be disappointing.
"We recognise the challenge that lies before us, but we can proceed. We are competitive, we have a good team and we believe in ourselves,” said Andreou.
The battle will be tough. Andreou has identified Georgia and Azerbaijan as the challengers for the first place, while hosts Malta could find the prospect of playing at home enticing enough to become a dark horse.
Cyprus beat Azerbaijan 32:28 in the 2017 Emerging Nations and the Azeri side bring a relative lack of experience. The last time the Azeris featured in the EHF EURO Qualifiers was for the 2006 tournament, when they were thoroughly disposed of by Slovakia, Poland and Netherlands.
Georgia have been a constant presence in the qualifiers, but only registered three wins in the past 14 games, with four losses against Italy and Luxembourg in the EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers.
However, the Georgian side is upbeat and ready to fight for top spot this time around.
“We must win against Malta and Azerbaijan. Then, we will see against Cyprus. But I think we must consider ourselves favourites right now,” said 22-year old right wing Irakli Gogoladze.
“The goal is qualifying for EHF EURO 2022, this is a must for us,” said Georgia’s coach Djordje Rasic.
Cyprus vs Azerbaijan (Friday 11 January, 17:00 CET)
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu/jh
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