25/09/2019

Five commanding wins; five hard-hitting losses

QUALIFIERS REVIEW 2: Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, Germany and Hungary all enjoyed clear home victories that served as dream starts to their qualification campaigns

Anna Vykahireva helped Russia, the 2018 silver medallists, to a successful start of their EHF EURO 2020 campaign.

The first round of Women’s EHF EURO 2020 qualifiers continued with five commanding victories for home teams – adding to the two already recorded by Romania and Croatia, both playing on their own ground.

In group 2, Montenegro and Hungary overcame Italy and Lithuania, while Germany enjoyed a high-scoring win versus Belarus in group 3. EHF EURO 2018 runners-up Russia had the perfect start to their campaign with a confident win against Slovakia, as, also in group 4, Serbia defeated Switzerland.

GROUP 2

Montenegro vs Italy 41:17 (20:9)

There was never any doubt that Montenegro would celebrate the two points at the final whistle. The EHF EURO 2012 winners created an early lead and when they maintained control at 7:1, Italy coach Neven Hrupec had little choice but to call a timeout.

Italy found their rhythm after the pause, and started to become more threatening in attack, but they could never match Montenegro. At the 20-minute mark, Montenegro led 14:7 and coach Per Johansson was clearly confident as he replaced starting keeper Marina Rajcic with 18-year-old Anastasija Babovic.

With Montenegro in front by 11 at half-time – led by a huge nine goals from captain Jovanka Radicevic in the first 30 minutes alone – the two points were all but decided.

Italy managed to keep the distance from growing at the start of the second period, but the last 20 minutes showed Montenegro’s strength as they pulled steadily further in front.

Hungary vs Lithuania 30:19 (16:12)

Two years ago, in the qualifiers for the Women’s EHF EURO 2018, Lithuania pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the opening round when they drew away against Germany. There was no such fairy tale beginning to their EHF EURO 2020 qualifiers campaign, however, as Lithuania endured a heavy defeat in Erd.

Hungary coach Kim Rasmussen named a young squad for the first rounds of the qualifiers, with five players who claimed Hungary’s first ever junior world title in 2018 playing an important role. Among them was back Katrin Klujber, who scored nine goals.

The youngsters stepped up spectacularly, although Lithuania had a strong start. In the first 20 minutes, the lead changed between the teams. But in the last 10 minutes of the opening period Lithuania’s began to fade, and in the second half it was clear they did not have the depth or power to overcome their hosts.

After a four-goal lead at half-time, Hungary streaked ahead – the partial score for the second period was a decisive 17:7 for the home team.

GROUP 3

Germany vs Belarus 40:30 (20:14)

Led by a commanding game from their backs Emily Bölk and Kim Naidzinavicius, Germany earned their first points of the qualifiers in style, as they enjoyed a comfortable win at home in Coburg.

The high-scoring match saw Germany hold a six-goal advantage at half-time and finish with a distance of 10 in their favour – though the 30 goals against them showed the win was a result of outscoring their opponents rather than defence.

Bölk and Naidzinavicius combined for 12 goals from the back court, while centre back Katsiaryna Silitskaya tallied the same for Belarus. Silitskaya played an important part in reducing the score line in the last 10 minutes of the first half, as the visitors came within four goals more than once.

However, Germany put in a clearer distance right in time for the break and the depth in their squad meant the home side had more power to control the second period.  

GROUP 4

Serbia vs Switzerland 35:23 (17:11)

Though Serbia finished with a commanding victory, Switzerland were able to take the upper hand in the opening minutes – before any hope they may have felt at that stage proved completely false.

It took Serbia three minutes to score their opening goal, while Switzerland added two to the score board. But after the two goals from Noelle Frey, Switzerland quickly found themselves in a nightmare situation, as they could not score again until the 16th.

When Kerstin Kündig scored the penalty after the first quarter, Serbia had built a commanding advantage at 9:3, and they held on to that same lead at half-time. Once Serbia had opened such a distance, it was clear recovery would be difficult for Switzerland – and the second period proved completely one-sided.

Serbia cruised ahead, and when they reached a 10-goal lead, 29:19, with little over 10 minutes on the clock, the points were clearly decided.

Russia vs Slovakia 34:15 (17:10)

It was a masterful performance from EHF EURO 2018 MVP Anna Vyakhireva that led Russia to their first win of the qualifiers. The right back scored nine goals for the current continental vice-champions and Olympic title holders, in a match that saw the victors in control from the 10th minute on.

In what was the first official game with new coach Ambros Martin at the helm, Russia had a slightly shaky start and Slovakia managed the upper hand in the opening 10 minutes – but overcoming Russia, at home no less, was never going to be easy.

After their slow opening, Russia pulled ahead to a lead of seven at half-time. Their defence enabled Russia to keep the visitors to 10 goals in the first half, and saw them allow only five goals against them in the second period.

Martin could afford to rotate his squad extensively, and almost all court players contributed to the final score. Alongside her sister Vyakhireva, Polina Kuznetsova was the biggest attacking danger for Russia, scoring five.

written by Courtney Gahan / ew