Belarus kept themselves in the running to gatecrash the final weekend with a narrow victory over the Czech Republic in Vienna.
Both sides knew a defeat would end their hopes of reaching Stockholm and it showed in a game that saw neither team lead by more than three goals.
Iouri Chevtsov’s Belarus were only ever behind once – inside the first minute – and their narrow advantage throughout the match was consistently maintained thanks to Mikita Vailupau, who scored six goals.
Despite scoring the most goals in the match and winning the player of the match award, Czech Republic captain Ondrej Zdrahala could not inspire his team to victory and defeat rules them out of a trip to Stockholm next weekend.
- Belarus’ Mikita Vailupau scores six goals from nine shots
- Czech captain Ondrej Zdrahala win player of the match award and was the top scorer with seven goals
- Belarus remain in the hunt for the final weekend
- defeat for the Czech Republic ends their chances
Belarus vs Czech Republic 28:25 (13:11)
Both sides knew nothing less than a win would keep their slim hopes of reaching the semi-alive and as a result the first half hour was dominated by the defences.
Belarus just edged the opening 30 minutes, with Mikita Vailapau leading the way with four first-half efforts that took his goal tally for his country to 100.
It was nip and tuck in the scoring but the Czech Republic had the agility of their goalkeepers Martin Galia and Tomas Mrkva to thank for preventing Belarus from extending their advantage to three goals.
Mrkva saved two seven-metre penalties but in truth both sides were poor in front of goal in the opening half: just 24 goals were scored from 45 shots.
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) January 18, 2020
But seven minutes after the restart the Czechs were back on level terms at 19:19 after three fast break goals with captain Ondrej Zdrahala leading the charge with seven goals from eight shots on goal.
Belarus maintained a slender advantage as the game entered the final five minutes with saves from goalkeeper Aliaksei Kishou, who replaced Ivan Matskevich ahead of this match, and goals from right wing Vailupau handing Chevtsov’s side a two-goal cushion.
With 90 seconds left Belarus finally edged three goals ahead – the biggest lead either team had built up in the match – when Siarhei Shylovich’s shot was judged to have crossed the line after the referees had consulted the video replay system.
That goal was enough to seal a win, keep the Belarusians in contention for a place in the final weekend and officially end the Czechs’ chances. Zdrahala said afterwards: “That was our worst performance of the tournament and not the way of handball we would like. That is all.”