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Three-way race for two semi-final tickets

PREVIEW: While Denmark, Germany and Spain fight for the semi-finals, Russia and Sweden duel for the Olympic Qualification Tournaments on the final day of main round matches in Wroclaw

Photo: Sascha Klahn / Piotr Matusewicz

Never before in the history of the EHF EURO have none of the four semi-finalists been confirmed prior to the final match day of the main round.

In Wroclaw, Wednesday’s duels will decide which two teams will travel to the final weekend in Krakow and which will remain for the 5/6 placement match.

In addition, the race for the second European ticket to the Olympic Qualification Tournaments is still on after Norway grabbed the first one in Group 1. The battle for that coveted berth is between Sweden and Russia.

GROUP 2: Sweden vs Hungary, Wednesday 27 January, 16:00 local time

If Hungary win, Sweden are likely out of the race for Olympic Qualification tickets. If Sweden win, they will have to wait for the result of the final main round match in Wroclaw, when Russia face Spain.

Hungary are out of this race already, even if they beat Sweden.

“We made one important step towards remaining in the race for Rio with the draw against Denmark on Tuesday. Now we have to go the second one,” said Sweden goalkeeper Mattias Andersson.

Sweden currently have two points in their account from two draws against Russia and Denmark, while Hungary are still on zero, but put on a brave performance on Tuesday, losing 29:31 against Spain.

Hungary have so far won five duels with Sweden, while the Scandinavians took twelve wins, including the crucial semi-final at the 2012 London Olympic Games (27:26).

GROUP 2: Germany vs Denmark, Wednesday 27 January, 18:15 local time

Ten of the 16 Denmark EURO players are contracted by German clubs, both the teams’ coaches are Icelandic, and it is the 105th duel between these sides. Germany vs Denmark is a handball classic – and this time the significance is huge, as it has rarely been since the 2008 EURO semi-final, which was won by the Danes.

Denmark put themselves under pressure ahead of the clash against Germany when they let a three-goal lead against Sweden slip from their hands to finish with a 28:28 draw on Tuesday, though they are still the only unbeaten team of the EHF EURO 2016 with seven points in their account.

But Gudmundur Gudmundsson’s team can feel the breath of their Group 1 opponents on their necks, as both Germany and Spain can pass the Danes on the final main round day to snatch away the semi-final ticket.

If Germany win they clinch their berth for the semi-final, while the 14th draw in the history of this duel would put the Danes through to Krakow. In that case, Germany would have to wait for the result of the Spain vs Russia match.

If Germany lose, they are definitely out and Spain will be confirmed as the second semi-finalist of this group.

After their 30:29 win over Russia on Sunday the list of injuries in the German squad increased: Captain Steffen Weinhold and left back Christian Dissinger are out, replaced by Kai Häfner and Julius Kühn.

“Those injuries are a shock for us, but we will fight until the last shots have been fired,” German coach Dagur Sigurdsson said.

“We have to cope with the situation that Germany had two more rest days, but I hope that we still have enough grains to beat them,” Danish line player Henrik Toft Hansen said.

GROUP 2: Spain vs Russia, Wednesday 27 January, 20.30 local time

From winning the group to missing the semi-finals and playing the 5/6 match, everything is possible for medal contenders Spain prior to their last main round match. Like Germany they have six points, but won the direct encounter against them in their EHF EURO 2016 opener (32:29).

If Denmark beat Germany in the match before, Spain are already qualified for the semi as the second-ranked team of Group 2. If Germany win against Denmark and Spain defeat Russia, the 2013 world champions will top the group table.

If Germany tie with Denmark, the Spaniards at least need a draw to book the trip to Krakow. If Germany win and Spain lose, they are out of the semi race.

On the other hand, Russia (currently on three points – one point in front of Sweden) can still hope for a ticket to the Olympic Qualification Tournaments. To claim the place, they have to finish ahead of Sweden.

If Sweden win against Hungary, Russia have to beat Spain. If Sweden draw, Russia need to draw. If Sweden lose, Russia are already confirmed as the fourth-ranked team of this group and will continue the path to Rio.

Though both sides have been two of the best in handball for decades, they have only faced each other in eight matches so far, with Spain winning five times, as they did in their previous EURO duel in 2012 in Serbia (30:27), and Russia three times.

“Everybody knows the significance of this match. Though the time to rest and to prepare was quite short, we are ready for this duel,” said Spain line player Gedeon Guardiola, who is back in the team after his finger injury, replacing Niko Mindegia.

For the final main round match, Russia replaced their goalkeeper Vadim Bogdanov with Dmitry Pavlenko (Chekhovskie Medvedi).

written by Bjorn Pazen / cg