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Poland face a must-win game, while Norway chase historic success

PREVIEW: The Scandinavians are eager to continue riding their wave of success against FYR Macedonia, while the hosts need to regroup quickly ahead of their meeting with Belarus

Photo: Uros Hocevar

Following Saturday's clear French win against Croatia, the Group 1 semi-final maths is clearer as France, Norway and Poland become the frontrunners for the two tickets while Croatia have only an outside chance to make it to the penultimate match at the EHF EURO 2016.

The host nation hope that Poland will be able to recover quickly for a must-win match against their eastern neighbours from Belarus on Monday, and Norway will be well on the way to their best-ever finish at the European championship if they defeat FYR Macedonia.

France and Croatia will have a rest day on Monday and return to action on Wednesday for the final day in the main round.

GROUP 1: FYR Macedonia vs Norway, Monday 25 January, 18:15 hrs

Following a stunning victory against the host nation (30:28) Norway already has a ticket for the Olympic Qualification Tournament in their pocket. The Scandinavian side, who are arguably the biggest dark horse of the tournament, will also emulate – or beat – their best placement at the EHF EURO since 2006, when they finished sixth on the home court.

But the hunger of Christian Berge's men is far from stilled, as their premiere participation in the medal round is well within reach.

If they beat the Macedonians on Monday and Poland fail to gain both points against Belarus, then Norway can clinch the semi-final ticket before their last main round match, where they will come up against the defending champions from France.

"Macedonia are not an easy team to win against. They have great players on the line and they have Kiril Lazarov," said Norway left back Erlend Mamelund. "It will be a really tough game but we are looking forward to that and we want to win."

The opening duel on Monday will be the premiere clash of these two rivals on the EHF EURO court. In their three previous competitive matches Norway won twice and lost once, but many has changed since their last meeting almost six years ago.

GROUP 2: Poland vs Belarus, Monday 25 January, 20:30 hrs

"We fell, but still have two games in our hands to rise again," said Poland head coach Michael Biegler after their disappointing defeat to Norway on Saturday evening.

His charges are struggling to cope with the role of favourite's on the home court. Their nervous play against Norway resembled their performances against the Serbs and Macedonians in the group phase – though both of those games ended in their favour.

There is still much at stake for the tournament's organisers, but luckily for Poland their stumble against the Norwegians might prove harmless.

If they regroup fast enough and record two wins in their last two main round matches, they can still not only reach the semi-finals, but also win the Group 1.

"Our defence looked really, really bad against Norway. We definitely need to work on that before the next match," line player Kamil Syprzak commented. Just two days after his stellar performance against France he was efficiently cut off from the ball in attack and limited to only two goals.

While Poland will find themselves under enormous pressure once again when 15,000 spectators descend upon TAURON Arena, they can at least look back on the favourable historical results, which show that Poland won both of the competitive encounters with Belarus.

For Belarus, only pride is on the line against Poland. Iouri Chevtsov's team is already out; not only of the semi-final race but also of contention for the Olympic Qualification Tournament, and will rank between 9th and 12th place in the final standings of the EHF EURO 2016.

written by Vlado Brindzak / cg