The final tournament of the Women’s EHF EURO 2020 is still 18 months away. There is a long road ahead and only three teams have been secured of their berth yet: title holders France and co-hosts Denmark and Norway.
The fight for the 13 remaining places starts Friday (31 May) with a Phase 1 event in Veria. Over three days, the city in northern Greece will host six games involving the host nation, Finland, Israel and Luxembourg (playing schedule). All matches can be followed in the EHF live ticker.
The four teams will battle it out for one place in Group 1 of the Qualifiers, which also includes Netherlands, Spain and Austria.
"Not enough to be competitive"
Greece also hosted a Phase 1 tournament two years ago, when they finished runners-up after being edged by Faroe Islands 25:24 in the decisive match.
“In the past years we have progressed. Right now our goal is to win games, it is not enough to be competitive, we must see the results,” said Greece women’s national team coach, Danilos Menelaos.
The Greek side’s preparations were hampered by injuries, with left wing Christa-Maria Stougiannidou and left back Aikaterini Vafeiadou almost certain to miss the three games this weekend.
“We are happy that the games will be held in Greece and, with the help of our fans, we hope to win this group,” added Menelaos.
The Greek side looked to have improved over the past years, earning two wins against Portugal and Italy in last year’s World Championship Qualification Phase 1, but they were overwhelmed by Belarus, which clinched a comfortable 28:18 win.
"Great strides forward"
Finland are back to contend for a Phase 2 berth after they were also part of the qualifying group in Greece two years ago, when they lost to both Greece and Faroe Islands.
However, Finland’s roster includes eight players who are plying their trade in Sweden and they are looking more confident than before.
“I believe the games against Greece and Israel are tough, as both teams have been good at the World Championship Qualifiers last year and are developing well,” said Finland coach Tommy Suoraniemi.
“We must avenge the defeat in Greece two years ago. I think we have made great strides forward, but we have to fight to get to the next round.”
Ambition versus lack of experience
For the first time since 1994, the women’s national team of Luxembourg is taking part in qualification for an EHF EURO event.
The third-placed team at the Challenge Trophy 2018 looks like the most inexperienced one, but their ambition could outweigh the lack of experience. Last week they played a friendly game against Belgium and lost by nine goals, 38:29.
Also, Israel are back to challenge for a place in the next phase, like they did for the past two editions of Europe’s top competition for national teams.
Mixed results have been the norm for Israel, as both times they managed to win one game, they lost the other and failed to advance.