Poland lived up to expectations against their less-heralded opponents, Belarus, with a comfortable 32:27 win in front of another sold-out crowd in Krakow's TAURON Arena on Monday.
"It is encouraging that we won. Belarus did not give up and they fought until the very end," said Poland's Karol Bielecki. "It was definitely an important match after the defeat against Norway. We got closer to the semi-finals."
Poland, who struggled to win against Serbia and FYR Macedonia, and lost to Norway, now sit just one point behind Group 1 leaders Norway. The final main round day in Krakow will decide which two teams out of Norway, France, Poland and Croatia claim the two semi-final tickets.
Belarus, who had to play without their high-scoring back Siarhei Rutenka from the second minute, remain on the bottom of Group 1 and will face FYR Macedonia in the match to decide fifth place in the group.
In the first few minutes Belarus emulated the gritty performance of the Macedonians in the previous match as 19-year-old left wing Andrei Yurynok opened the scoring. But they soon lost their greatest star, Rutenka, who suffered an Achilles tendon injury after 90 seconds of play.
Belarus survived another ten minutes in a frenetic atmosphere without any major damage, but when Artsiom Karalek scored for 11:13, the home team tightened their grip on the game and never looked back.
"We were prepared for this atmosphere and we wanted to play," said Belarus' Barys Pukhouski. "Our first 15-20 minutes were good and if we had pushed that, we would push down their pressure. There was also a physical difference."
At the end of the first half Poland led by six goals at 19:13, and after 15 more minutes of play defence specialist Piotr Grabarczyk made it a ten-goal difference (28:18) with his first goal at the EHF EURO 2016.
Limping Rutenka returned to the arena 10 minutes into the second half but only as a moral support on the bench. It seems the tournament is over for him ahead of Belarus’ final game against FYR Macedonia.
The hosts comfortably controlled the rest of the match and their coach Michael Biegler was able to rest several of his key players towards the end.
Michal Jurecki scored nine goals to be named the best player of the match, while Siarhei Shylovich led the Belarusian scorers with six goals in Rutenka's absence.