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Four teams still vie for the semi-final

PREVIEW: Norway, France and Poland are the top contenders for the semi-final spots in Main Round Group 1, while Croatia still have a chance – albeit a very small one that also requires an Herculean effort against Poland



Photos: Uros Hocevar, Karol Bartnik

The main round in Krakow reaches its thrilling climax on Wednesday as all six teams in Group 1 will take to the floor in the TAURON Arena.

While the game between Belarus and FYR Macedonia will be the last for the two teams involved at this EHF EURO, the two other games will decide which teams reach the final round and who will have to settle for the placement matches in Wroclaw.

The group could not be more delicately balanced and various final rankings are still possible.

It is important to remember that direct matches between teams that end up on the same points will decide the final ranking.

The first factor is the number of points from matches among all teams in question, the second is the goal difference and the third is the number of goals scored in these games.

If the decision still cannot be made, the goal difference from all matches in the group followed by the number of goals scored in the group will be considered.

Group 1: FYR Macedonia vs Belarus, Wednesday 27 January, 16:00 hrs

It is the first time these two teams meet on EHF EURO level, but despite the premiere there is not that much at stake.

The final result will determine which side will sit on the bottom of the table in Group I and which team places fifth – inevitably it will be their respective last performance at this championship.

After they played a thrilling draw against Norway (31:31) on Monday, another draw would do for FYR Macedonia to rank above Belarus, and Kiril Lazarov, who has scored 32 times already and tops the scorer list together with Poland's Michal Jurecki, promises that the team will give everything it has for a positive finish to the EHF EURO.

"We cannot win the EHF EURO 2016 but we have to defeat Belarus. Our country and our fans want us to do that," Lazarov said.

Belarus will have to cope with the loss of their best player at the tournament as Siarhei Rutenka suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the match against Poland (27:32) on Monday.

Team captain Barys Pukhouski nevertheless vows that his team will not go down without a fight.

"When we enter on the court, it’s to fight. For all our young players, it’s a great experience. But what can we do? All the best players of the country are here," he said.

Both teams met twice in competitive matches before. Almost 19 years ago they won their respective home matches in the EHF EURO 1998 Pre-qualification.

Group 1: France vs Norway, Wednesday 27 January, 18:15 hrs

In theory the surprise package of the championship, Norway, has the best chance to qualify for the semi-final as a draw would be enough for their historic ticket in the top four.

However, it is no one less than the defending champions from France awaiting them in the last main round match.

"France is the best team in history. They won so many medals. But we believe in ourselves. We will have to play our best match," Erlend Mamelund, one of one Norway's most experienced players, said.

His teammate Espen Lie Hansen added: "We played better against Poland (than Norway did in their 31:31 draw against FYR Macedonia.

"We have to go back to this level to play well against France. We have to play at our best against them to have a chance. They have world-class players on every position."

The news from the French camp say that Kentin Mahe should be back in the team after the versatile right-hander sustained a finger injury against Belarus.

Any French victory will move 'Les Experts' to the semi-final and a group win and although there would be still a theoretical chance for them to advance even if they lose - their fate would then be decided in the match between Croatia and Poland.

The teams have met already 13-times in competitive matches with France losing four games and winning eight, including the only encounter at EHF EURO level, 24:21 at the 2000 championship.

Group 1: Poland vs Croatia, Wednesday 27 January, 20:30 hrs

It is all or nothing for Poland. The hosts will know exactly what they will have to achieve only after the match between Norway and France has been played, but right now it is only victory they are preparing for.

While the head-to-heads speak in favour of Croatia who won five of the seven competitive matches between the two teams, the 15,000-people strong crowd will once again create an intimidating atmosphere in the TAURON Arena.

"We know that the atmosphere will be amazing. It's always great the play in front of the full stands even if they are against you.

"That's an even greater motivation. It would be easier if we had played every two days but these three rest days we had were good for us because of all the injuries in the team," Croatian captain Marko Kopljar said.

There is only a tiny semi-final chance left for Croatia. They need Norway to win over France and then they have to beat Poland by at least 11 goals.

"Croatia will play under no pressure as they have virtually lost their chance to advance to the semi-final. Sometimes it is really difficult to play such an opponent.

"We know them, they know us, it will be definitely a tough battle. But we are not afraid of anything. We are a good team that believes in itself and in its skills," Polish right wing Michal Daszek said.

written by Vlado Brindzak / ts