Finish line in sight
For the first time, 32 teams are competing for 20 spots at a Men’s EHF EURO and the qualification campaign has surprised many who feared an easy ride for Europe’s top teams.
The qualification system is quite easy: All group winners, all runners-up and the four best third ranked teams qualify for the EHF EURO. In terms of the final classification of the third ranked teams, only the results against group winners and runners-up are taken into account.
Besides the three hosts, Austria, Norway and Sweden, defending EHF EURO champions Spain are already qualified and are competing in the EHF EURO Cup.
Germany are already confirmed qualifiers with the maximum of eight points and can secure top spot if they avoid defeat to Israel in Round 5. It is very open behind Germany with Israel (four points), Kosovo and Poland (both two points) all with a chance to finish second.
Poland are narrow favourites and if they win in Kosovo and beat Israel by a better result than 25:24, they are through. In that scenario, Israel finish third with two points from the matches against Germany and Poland.
Croatia (seven points) have already qualified for the EHF EURO and Switzerland (six) only need one more point from the two encounters at Serbia and against Croatia to make it to their first EHF EURO since hosting the final tournament in 2006.
EHF EURO 2012 silver medallists Serbia are on two points after two draws against Belgium and Croatia. To finish second, they need two victories, including beating Switzerland by five or more goals and hope that Croatia beat the SWISs. If they beat Switzerland and finish third, Serbia have a healthy three points in the third place ranking.
The group is wide open, with North Macedonia and Iceland on five points each, hunted by Turkey on four and Greece on two, who beat the Macedonians and have hope to secure third position. Iceland and North Macedonia are favourites to progress and if they both win both matches, then the currently third-ranked Turks are out of the race for the EHF EURO.
Slovenia are through with a perfect eight points so far, while the Latvians can hope for their first ever EHF EURO participation. One point from the matches against Slovenia and the Netherlands is enough to remain ahead of the Dutch, currently on two points. Estonia are rooted to the bottom on zero points. If Slovenia draw with Latvia, they are confirmed as group winners. The Netherlands have to win both matches, including reversing a 29:25 loss to Latvia, and hope for a Latvian defeat against Slovenia to finish second.
Another tight one sees Bosnia-Herzegovina and Czech Republic top the ranking with six goals each, ahead of Belarus (four) and Finland without a point. If Belarus can win away to the Bosnians in Round 5, the final round clash between the current top two on Czech soil could decide everything.
Should all three sides end on eight points, the third placed side will be well positioned with four points against the top two.
The first two positions are almost decided, as France and Portugal top the ranking with six points each, ahead of Romania and Lithuania, both on two points.
The two top sides finally can book their EHF EURO tickets already in their away encounters in Round 5, while Romania and Lithuania need some points to give themselves any chance of finishing among the top four third place teams.
Mathematically, Italy still can make it to the EHF EURO with four points from their two sensational victories against Slovakia. But in reality, Hungary (seven points) and Russia (five) will be strong favourites against the Italians.
Hungary missed a chance to book early qualification on home court against Russia, but can put that issue to bed with a win over Slovakia, who are out of the running, in Round 5.
The remarkable victory against world and Olympic champions Denmark could be worth a trip to EHF EURO 2020 for Montenegro as it gives them a chance in the third place ranking. With three points on their account and duels with Faroe Islands and Ukraine ahead, the Montenegrins even have a chance to finish second.
The winner of the Round 5 clash between Ukraine and Denmark, both on six points, will decide who goes through first, while the other team will have some work to do in the final round.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor