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Qualification for Men's EHF EURO 2016 about to start

Nine teams face off in the newly installed qualification system for Poland 2016

Parallel to the start of the second stage of the qualification for the Men’s EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark the first part of the qualification for the Men’s EHF EURO 2016 in Poland is about to start on Wednesday with nine teams competing in three groups – those nine that missed the 2014 qualification groups.

For the first time this new qualification system will be used for the EHF EURO 2016, which will see Phase 1 played on a home and away basis in three groups of three teams.

The change is aimed at providing Europe's emerging handball nations with more high level national team matches, and an opportunity to promote the sport at home to fans and the media as well as national partners and sponsors.

The former IHF/EHF Trophy competition has been replaced by this new qualification system.

The draw was held at the EHF Congress in Monaco in June. The first qualification stage will be played in six match days from 31 October 2012 until 16 June 2013 – exactly on the same dates as the 2014 EHF EURO qualification groups will have their matches.

The match dates are:

Round 1: 31 October/1 November 2012

Round 2: 3 and 4 November 2012

Round 3: 3 and 4 April 2013

Round 4: 6 and 7 April 2013

Round 5: 12 and 13 June 2013

Round 6: 15 and 16 June 2013

The three group winners from Phase 1 will progress to a knock-out phase where they will meet the three lowest ranked fourth placed teams from EHF EURO 2014 Qualification Phase 2 in two play-off matches, home and away, on 2/3 April 2014 and 5/6 April 2014.

The fixtures for the first two rounds of the EHF EURO 2016 qualification stage 1:

Group A:

Finland vs. Luxembourg; 31 Oct, 19:00 hrs. local time in Karis

Cyprus vs. Finland, 4 Nov, 18:00 hrs. local time in Nicosia

The teams of group A know each other well, as they competed in the same constellation already in the first stage of the EHF EURO 2014 qualification. Each team gained one victory and one defeat each – so the group seems to be quite open.

The Finnish team is starting their qualification with cautious optimism, but it is the explicit goal of coach Mikael Källman (former German Bundesliga player and European Cup winner) and his team is to proceed to the next stage, even though they surprisingly lost against Luxemburg in June.

“Finland seek nothing but victories in its qualifying group,” is the opinion of Källman, but he is aware of the opponents strengths: “Luxembourg gave us a fiery enough message in June giving us no reason to declare any victories in advance in this group.”

Luxemburg did not only manage to beat Finland, but were highly close to another sensation, when they nearly defeated World Championship participant Belarus in the qualification for the 2013 tournament before finally going down 32:33.

In previous qualifications Cyprus managed to beat only Luxemburg and Great Britain – but were close to a victory in the duel against Greece last January.

Group B:

Greece vs. Great Britain; 31 Oct, 17:30 hrs. local time in Loutraki (live on “OTE TV”)

Italy vs. Greece; 3. Nov, 20:00 hrs. local time in Lavis

Two hosting nations of Olympic Games will face in the opener of group B – but the situation of Greece (sixth ranked in Athens 2004) and Great Britain (12th ranked in London) is completely different.

On the one side, the internationally experienced Greek players with a large number of German Bundesliga stars, on the other hand the British team.

But after their Olympic experience the Great Britain are eagerly awaiting their next competition, says new head coach Bill Bailie.

“It is hoped this will be the start of a new era for the Men's squad with a mix of Olympic Experience and the promotion and development of home grown players.”

His newly formed 15 player’s squad will have three training sessions in Greece before their opener – but still the host are supposed to be the overwhelming favourite.

Greece missed the EHF EURO 2014 qualification stage 2 ranking below Switzerland and Italy in June – and winning only one match in this tournament, a 35:30 against Great Britain and a draw against Italy, a team they will face in this qualification in 2013.

The Italians have improved especially on home ground, tying with Switzerland in the EHF EURO 2014 qualification.

Group C:

Estonia vs. Ireland; 31 Oct, 18:30 hrs. local time in Kehra Harjumaa

Belgium vs. Estonia; 3 Nov, 20:30 hrs. local time in Neerpelt (live on “VRT”)

It is just the second time that Ireland will pit themselves against Europe’s top teams in a European Championship Qualification tournament.

However, Irish Players and their coach are looking forward to this challenge: “We are pleased with the progress that the team have made to date. They have been training incredibly hard over the summer in preparation for these games and this will be another strong challenge on the journey to create a top level international team for Ireland,” Ireland Coach, Toni Gerona, said.

The top player in this group apparently is Estonian Handball Player of the Year, Mait Patrail, wearing the jersey of German Bundesliga team Hannover-Burgdorf.

He led his team close to the qualification for the EHF EURO 2012, but finally Estonia placed behind Hungary and FYR Macedonia.

Besides, Estonia closely missed the qualification play-offs for the 2013 World Championship, losing the decisive match against the Netherlands.

Like Ireland, Belgium are the underdog in this group despite a strong improvement in previous years marked by some victories in qualification matches. Belgium and Estonia already met in the 2011 World Championship qualification, when the Baltic team took home a clear 30:20 victory.

written by Björn Pazen / ts