Three goals were the biggest margin in the four openers of Round 5 of the EHF EURO 2020 qualification on Wednesday, which all ended in away victories.
Thanks to a 33:30 come-from-behind victory in Ukraine, Denmark booked their EHF EURO ticket, as well as the Hungarians and Macedonians, who both won their games by a single goal. The Czechs took another close victory, in Finland, and are in a good way to also grab that EHF EURO ticket.
Turkey vs North Macedonia 25:26 (13:11)
The Macedonians finished this thriller victorious and with it, sealed a place at their fifth straight EHF EURO final tournament since 2012 – their sixth time in total. But Kiril Lazarov (seven total goals), Stojanche Stoilov and friends had to wait right until the final whistle to celebrate victory.
After three points from the double-header against Iceland in Rounds 3 and 4, the Macedonians extended their unbeaten series to three matches and now have seven points in their account. Turkey remain third, with four points.
Following a perfect start (7:3, 10:7), the visitors then lost control of the match as Turkey fought hard for every centimetre, leading for the first time at 11:10. And they even extended the gap to four goals at 19:15 in minute 42.
But a time-out from Macedonia’s head coach Danilo Brestovac was the turning point as his side first levelled the score again before taking the lead eight minutes before the end. Turkey stood strong but missed the last chance to score a crucial equaliser.
Finland vs Czech Republic 24:26 (12:17)
The gate to the EHF EURO is open wide for the Czechs, depending on the result of the late match between Bosnia Herzegovina and Belarus, with the sixth-ranked side of the EHF EURO 2018 on eight points.
The visitors were dominant for 47 minutes, but almost let this crucial victory slip from their hands. Ahead by seven (23:16) with only 13 minutes to go, the side of head coach Daniel Kubes seemed to be too sure and relaxed as Finland steadily reduced the gap goal-by-goal.
They were even close to turn the match around 90 seconds before the end, down by just one (25:24), but, finally, top scorer Tomas Babak (six goals like Finland’s Max Granlund) and two saves from goalkeeper Tomas Mrkva sealed the deal. Finland remain without a point.
Slovakia vs Hungary 20:21 (8:9)
After two demolishing defeats against Italy, the Slovakians showed their true colours in the duel of the two EHF EURO 2022 hosts.
Fighting like lions, they were close to becoming the first team to defeat the unbeaten Hungarians, who booked their EHF EURO ticket with the win, moving up to nine points after their fourth win in five matches.
But it was a tough fight, in which both sides fully focussed on defence before the break, proved by only 17 goals in 30 minutes.
The visitors scored the last three goals in the first half, turning an 8:6 deficit into a 9:8 lead, and did not surrender their lead until almost the end, as they could not cast-off the bravely-fighting Slovaks.
The biggest lead from the visitors was four goals (18:14), which proved a wake-up call for the hosts, who then netted in four unanswered goals to level the result again.
Finally, Hungary were clever and lucky enough to take both points, as the Slovaks scored their last goal just one second before the buzzer.
Ukraine vs Denmark 30:33 (15:14)
World champions Denmark started in express mode, pulling ahead to a comfortable 7:3 lead after just 11 minutes. But the hosts struck back, turning the tide within nine minutes to go ahead for the first time, 11:10.
The match of the two top-ranked sides of this group was on the edge until the middle of the second half when the Olympic champions from Scandinavia took the upper hand again after being pegged back 21:21.
The encounter was decided when the Danes reached their first five-goal lead (30:25) with five minutes left.
The result means Nikolaj Jacobsen’s Danes are through to the EHF EURO, which they will start in Sweden. Ukraine remain on six points, but still hold their fate in their own hands, against Montenegro on Sunday.