Co-hosts Austria secured a third straight victory at an EHF EURO for the first time to book their place in the main round and eliminate North Macedonia.
Goalkeeper Thomas Eichenberger was the star of the show – the player of the match’s 15 saves and one assist were the springboard for a fine all-round performance from Ales Pajovic’s side.
The host were always well in control – leading by 10 goals at one point – with right wing Robert Weber top scoring with seven goals from nine shots.
The defeat for North Macedonia means Danilo Brestovac’s side will exit the competition with either the Czech Republic or Ukraine taking the final spot from the group in the main round.
- Austria progress to main round by winning three successive EHF EURO matches for the first time, while Macedonians fail to reach main round for the first time
- Hosts; keeper Thomas Eichberger earns player of the match award; saves 15 shots (41 per cent ratio)
- Robert Weber top-scored for Austria with seven goals from nine shots (78 per cent)
- the 11th Austrian goal was the hosts’ 500th in EHF EUROs
Austria vs North Macedonia 32:28 (18:12)
The onus was on North Macedonia to win this game with Danilo Brestovac’s side trailing the Austrians by two points in the group B table, but the co-hosts, swept along by a packed and vocal Wiener Stadhalle arena, took charge in the first half, opening up a six-goal lead at the break.
The preliminary round has been dominated by fine goalkeeping performances and it was no different here as Austrian stopper Thomas Eichberger’s eight saves (42 per cent ratio) kept the Macedonian attack at bay.
Captain Nikola Bilyk led the charge in front of goal for the hosts, scoring twice in a row to make it 9:6 while Janko Bozovic’s 123 km/h rocket on 17 minutes was Austria’s 500th goal in EHF EURO history.
However, it was party time in the second half for the home fans as the Macedonians crumbled. Eichberger continued his rich vein of blocking form with a series of saves, upping his save percentage to almost 50 per cent, and by the 36th minute Austria were 10 goals in front thanks to five goals without reply.
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With his side well ahead, Austrian coach Ales Pajovic had the luxury of resting his top players in the closing stages as the hosts cruised to victory and into the main round.
Kiril Lazarov attempted to lead a Macedonian fight-back but there was no way back. The legendary right back and a record holder for most goals at one EHF EURO (61 in 2012) leaves his fifth continental championships with a career tally of 182 goals, tied on the seventh place with the current Czech coach Jan Filip.
Pajovic praised his defence in particular.
"It’s not easy playing against the big Macedonian pivots. We were helped by Thomas and we made some easy goals. When you’re seven or eight goals up in the second half it's unbelievable.
"Now we can dream a little bit and see what happens," he added.