With the expansion of the EHF EURO to 24 teams, there is a plethora of possible line-ups in the preliminary round.
Here the focus is on the 12 teams in Pots 3 and 4, who they could end up facing and which opponents would offer the most interesting storylines ahead of the draw event on Friday 28 June at 18:45 hrs at Erste Bank Campus in Vienna. The draw will be streamed live on the EHF EURO YouTube channel and the EHF EURO Facebook page.
POT 4: Poland, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Bosnia Herzegovina, Netherlands
2016 hosts Poland are back at the final tournament after missing out two years ago. Among their potential preliminary round opponents are sides which have caused them heartache in recent years. Belarus helped to cause Poland’s 2018 qualification downfall and are potential Pot 2 opponents, alongside familiar foes Germany. While in Pot 1, Poland could have a chance to redeem themselves against Croatia, who knocked them out of their home EHF EURO with an incredible 37:23 win.
Russia missed out on the final tournament two years ago at the hands of Sweden (Pot 1) and Montenegro (Pot 3), while the side who frustrated them in this qualification campaign, Hungary, could pop up again from Pot 2.
Serbia could end up facing qualification rivals Croatia (Pot 1) and Switzerland (Pot 3) again, which would mean a trip to Graz for the preliminary round. Following heavy defeats to France (Pot 1) and Germany (Pot 2) at January’s World Championship, the Serbs may prefer to test themselves against other top ranked sides.
It has been 10 years since Ukraine last graced the EHF EURO stage and as that campaign ended early with three consecutive defeats, they may not fancy a return to Graz and Group A. There is a 33 per cent chance of facing one of their neighbours as both Belarus and Hungary sit in Pot 2.
Debutants Bosnia Herzegovina would fancy their chances on neutral ground against qualification group rivals Czech Republic (Pot 1) and Belarus (Pot 2) having split victories with both. There is a chance of them facing neighbours Montenegro (Pot 3) and Croatia (Pot 1) and being placed in either of the Austrian groups should inspire some supporters to travel over.
Netherlands also make their debut next January and a preliminary round clash with neighbours Germany )Pot 2) would be a special occasion, particularly due to the large number of Dutch players plying their trade there. Taking on hosts Sweden (Pot 1) would be an interesting test of the Dutch side’s progression since a five-goal aggregate loss in the World Championship 2019 playoff.
POT 3: Austria, Iceland, Montenegro, Portugal, Switzerland, Latvia
Austria are the lowest seeded of the three co-hosts, which means they will have their work cut out for them to progress to the main round on home court. They will face either Spain, France or Czech Republic from Pot 1, while they have a 50 per cent chance of taking on a neighbour, Hungary or Slovenia, from Pot 2.
The other time an EHF EURO took place in Austria, in 2010, Iceland won bronze. There is just a one-in-five chance of returning to Austria for the preliminary round, which would mean facing Croatia in Graz. It would not surprise them to be drawn with North Macedonia from Pot 2, a team they took on in qualification for 2018 and 2020 as well as January’s World Championship.
Still on the hunt for their first win at a final tournament, Montenegro look in good form going into their fourth consecutive EHF EURO. There is a 33 per cent chance of facing a neighbour from Pot 4, Serbia or Bosnia Herzegovina. Having beaten them in qualification, they may also enjoy facing Ukraine (Pot 4) or Denmark (Pot 1) in Malmö.
Portugal are back in the big time for the first time since 2006 and a battle against reigning champions and neighbours Spain (Pot 1) would undoubtedly be a special occasion. Being drawn alongside Serbia (Pot 4) or Slovenia (Pot 3) would offer the Portuguese a chance to exact revenge on teams who most recently denied them a place at a major championship.
Switzerland are also heading to their first championship since 2006 and they have a one-in-five chance of playing in neighbouring Austria, which would mean facing qualification group winners Croatia (Pot 1) in Graz. While they cannot face Austria in the preliminary round, other neighbours France (Pot 1) and Germany (Pot 2) are potential opponents and countries where star Swiss names play their club handball.
Armed with one of the most in-form players in the world, Latvia are set to make their EHF EURO debut in January. Vardar’s Dainis Kristopans could face the nation where he has become a hero as North Macedonia are in Pot 2, as are Latvia’s neighbours Belarus, where Kristopans spent two seasons with Meshkov Brest.