Latvia make history, Iceland stumble in Greece
The city of Valmiera was a party zone on Wednesday night, as hosts Latvia beat Slovenia in a nail-biting thriller to clinch their debut EHF EURO final competition berth.
Switzerland and Iceland missed their own qualification ticket in Round 5 and will have to wait until Sunday, like Israel.
Israel vs Germany 25:40 (14:19)
The decision about the second-ranked team in Group 1 will be taken in the Poland vs Israel duel on Sunday.
Without top star Chen Pomeranz – suspended for two matches after a red card in Round 4 – Israel had little chance against the strong Germans, remaining on four points.
In contrast, the 2004 and 2016 EHF EURO champions kept their clean record with their fifth victory out of five, although Germany only named 13 players in their roster and played without their regular starting seven.
In the 40th minute, at 16:26, the margin was double-figures for the first time and the game winners were clear.
In the end, Germany are the second team after France (42:27 against Lithuania) in this qualification phase to score 40 goals or more in a game.
Even 15 goals from the outstanding Andy Schmid were not enough for Switzerland to book an early EHF EURO ticket. A draw would have been enough, but in the end, already-qualified Croatia were too strong for the 2006 EHF EURO hosts.
Domagoj Duvnjak (seven goals) and Luka Stepancic (eight strikes) were the key to the Croats and why the 2008 and 2010 EHF EURO finalists took a comfortable victory in the end.
Bit of magic from @HandballSchweiz‘s Philipp Novak, hitting the post not 1, not 2, but 3 times with this shot – but it doesn’t go in… 😳@HRStwitt #ehfeuro2022 #dreamwinremember pic.twitter.com/1ADXyTSU8n
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) June 12, 2019
8:7 was to prove to be the last lead for Switzerland, and after that the Croats took the upper-hand and decided the duel eight minutes before the end when they led by five (30:25).
Lino Cervar’s Croatia remain unbeaten with nine points in their account and are playing without pressure after booking their EHF EURO 2020 ticket in Round 4.
Arnor Thor Gunnarsson prevented Iceland from a painful defeat at Greece when match top scorer netted goals eight and nine in the last 20 seconds to level a match which his side had dominated before the half-time break.
The Vikings had been ahead 14:10 in the first half, before the hosts improved and turned the match around in the second half. The 28:26 home lead 90 seconds before the end was their biggest advance, but finally they surrendered a big two points and win from their hands.
A victory for Iceland would have confirmed their EHF EURO ticket, but again, like in Round 2, when they had beaten North Macedonia, the Greeks showed their home strength although with three points, they still lie bottom in the ranking.
Having six points in their account, Iceland still have their fate in their own hands – and can even lose by 10 goals on home ground against Turkey in their final match on Sunday after they won 33:22 away in Round 2.
For the first time in handball history Latvia have proceeded to an EHF EURO final tournament.
Thanks to an incredible 13 goals, Dainis Kristopans steered his national team to their first-ever victory against Slovenia and with it, the EHF EURO 2020 – all of this just 10 days after he won the VELUX EHF Champions League with Vardar Skopje.
When the final whistle was blown, the Latvians danced on the court, not believing they had just made history.
LATVIJA! Mēs to izdarījām! Vēsturisks brīdis Latvijas handbolā! Iekļūstam Eiropas čempionāta finālturnīrā! Paldies visiem līdzjutējiem! 🇱🇻🇱🇻🇱🇻 pic.twitter.com/JmtM6GDvZX
— LHF (@LVhandball) 12 June 2019
The visitors, who had won their first four qualification matches and had already clinched the berth for the final tournament, were behind for 55 minutes of the 60 except for a five minute period (52-57 minutes) when the side of mastermind Veselin Vujovic had taken the lead – but the 56th minute was to prove to be – at 24:23 – the last Slovenian goal in a thrilling endgame.
By netting in the last two goals, Latvia won, moved up to eight points like Slovenia and also like their visitors, sealed their final tournament spot. They are kept from first place in the group due to the losing the direct encounter, but they will not mind one bit tonight.
TEXT: Bjorn Pazen/amc