Nothing ever goes exactly as the form book would suggest at EHF EURO events, which gives the eight teams in Pots 3 and 4 plenty of hope ahead of this December’s championship in Norway and Denmark.
A World Championship finalist, teams on the verge of a breakthrough and perennial giant killers feature in these pots and below is a breakdown of who they could end up facing when the draw is made on Thursday 18 June at 11:00 hrs at the EHF Office in Vienna. The draw event will be streamed live on the EHF EURO YouTube channel and the EHF EURO Facebook page.
POT 4: Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia
It is safe to say Slovenia are the team from Pot 4 which everyone will want to avoid. Despite failing to progress from their group in the last two championships, they scored surprise victories over Russia and the Netherlands, both potential opponents from Pot 1.
Montenegro and Serbia were responsible for their elimination in 2018 and 2019 and there is a 50 per cent chance of a shot at redemption as both are potential opponents from Pot 3.
There is a 50/50 chance that Poland will return to the scene of their most recent success. At the World Championship in 2015, hosted by Denmark, Poland reached the semi-finals, but losses to Netherlands and Romania, both in Pot 1, saw them leave without a medal.
Serbia have been a thorn in the Poles’ side in recent years, beating them in the preliminary round two years ago and in the play-off for last year’s World Championship, and are potential foes from Pot 3, alongside their only neighbours in the competition - Germany.
Since reaching the quarter-finals of the World Championship 2017, Czech Republic have not enjoyed any success of note.
The Czechs lost to Romania, Germany and Norway in the preliminary round two years ago and there is a small chance we could see a repeat of that group in December. Montenegro caused Jan Basny’s side plenty of heartbreak with a win on away goals to deny them a place at Japan 2019 and there is a 25 per cent chance of a rematch.
There is a 50 per cent chance of a derby neighbours Montenegro or Serbia for Croatia, while another neighbour Hungary await in Pot 2.
Should they be paired with Hungary, the Netherlands will also be in their group, the team which handed them their worst defeat in 2018, 34:23, as Croatia finished last in their group and in the EHF EURO.
POT 3: Montenegro, Germany, Serbia, Spain
Montenegro’s impressive run to fifth place at Japan 2019 saw them beat Hungary, Romania and Sweden, all potential and arguably favourable opponents from Pots 1 and 2.
Facing Romania would bring up some interesting dynamics as Montenegro’s coach Per Johansson is a former CSM Bucuresti head coach, while his assistant Adrian Vasile is the club’s current coach. In addition, Cristina Neagu is a former teammate of many Montenegrin stars from her Buducnost days, while Majda Mehmedovic and Jovanka Radicevic recently enjoyed a spell of their own in Romania.
Following a World Championship run which promised so much yet delivered so little in the end, it will be fascinating to see how Germany respond.
Their Dutch coach Henk Groener masterminded a victory over his home nation and eventual world champions last year and with so many Dutch players plying their trade in Germany, that would be a clash to relish should they end up in group C. Sweden will be their preferred opponents from pot 2, giving them an opportunity to avenge the defeat which dashed their Olympic dreams last December.
Serbia have shown increasing potential in recent years and you get the feeling that they are on the verge of a breakthrough to the medal rounds. It will be a tough task for them coming from Pot 3, but that have shown their ability to beat higher seeded teams in recent years.
With healthy contingents of players in Hungary and Romania, both opponents would make for fierce clashes. There’s a 50 per cent chance of them playing in Denmark, which would see them reacquaint themselves with Sweden or Denmark, games which provided plenty of drama at EHF EURO 2018.
It is safe to say that World Championship 2019 finalists Spain are the team nobody will fancy meeting from pot 3, given their fantastic recent form and fearless nature.
Las Guerreras have some unfinished business with the Netherlands and there is a 25 per cent chance we’ll see a repeat of the Japan 2019 final in the preliminary round.
A semi-final repeat is also a possibility as Norway sit in Pot 2. Beating Norway last year will have done something remove their tag as Spain’s ‘bogey team’, but a victory over them in Trondheim this December would be even more special.