Will the empires strike back?

ROUND 4 PREVIEW: How will Denmark and France react to their sensational defeats against Montenegro and Portugal? Five teams can book their EHF EURO 2020 tickets in round 4 of the qualifiers this weekend

France coach Didier Dinart said his team were unable to counter Portugal's tactics in round 3.

If there was any thought that the new qualification system, with 20 from 32 teams securing places at the Men’s EHF EURO 2020 in Norway, Sweden and Austria, would be boring, the complete opposite was proven in round 3. Italy and Kosovo took historic wins, world and Olympic champions Denmark were defeated by Montenegro, and France were demolished in Portugal.

In round 4 on Saturday and Sunday, which sees the rematches of the previous round, up to five teams can already book their EHF EURO 2020 tickets: The currently unbeaten group leaders Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Portugal. In addition, Switzerland can take a huge step towards their first EURO since 2006.

On the other hand, Group 5 is fully equal with three teams on four points.

The fans in Copenhagen will see a double premiere: the world champions will have their first match in Royal Arena after the opening game of the World Championship against Chile. The other Group 8 match, Faroe Islands against Ukraine, will also be played in Royal Arena, right before Denmark meet Montenegro – an arrangement that never happened before in the EURO qualifiers.

Croatia vs Serbia
Sunday 14 April, 20:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

A thrilling 25:25 was the outcome of the highly emotional first leg of the Balkan derby, with Domagoj Duvnjak securing the draw for the Croatians. If the hosts, currently on five points, win on Sunday, they are through to the EHF EURO 2020 – and would put even more pressure on the Serbians, who are on two points and are still waiting for their first win.

If Switzerland beat Belgium earlier on Sunday, Serbia will have their backs against the wall, but still have the chance. “A point against such a top team like Croatia is a good result. We have to fight again on Sunday,” said Serbian coach Nenad Perunicic. “Regardless of the results, those derbies are incredibly important for the development of our young players.”

The only duel between these sides on Croatian ground was the 32:22 win for Croatia at the EHF EURO 2018.

North Macedonia vs Iceland
Sunday 14 April, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

North Macedonia’s record on home ground against Iceland stands at three victories, one draw and four defeats in eight duels. After the Balkan side made a statement in the first official match with new national team coach Danilo Brestovac, winning 34:33 in Reykjavik on Wednesday, the hopes of adding another home victory to the tally are high.

Even 12 goals from mastermind Aron Palmarsson were not enough for Iceland to beat the Macedonians.

“After our defeat in Greece, we have a much better base now,” said Brestovac: “Now we want to make another huge step towards the EHF EURO on Sunday.”

Both sides have four points in their account, and both will face Turkey and Greece in rounds 5 and 6. Iceland know how difficult matches in former Yugoslavia can be, as they have lost in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro before.

France vs Portugal
Sunday 14 April, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Was it the first sign of a changing of the guard? The previously extra-terrestrial France team were brought down to the ground by an incredibly strong and tactically rehearsed Portugal on Thursday. The 27:33 was the biggest French defeat in any EHF EURO qualifier.

“For 60 minutes, we were not on court. We have to change everything on Sunday,” said France’s Kentin Mahe, looking ahead to the rematch at Strasbourg. France coach Didier Dinart gave his top star Nikola Karabatic time to rest in the tribune.

To have a chance to finish on top of the group, France now have to win by at least seven goals on Sunday – a hard nut to crack, especially if goalkeeper Umberto Gomes saves like he did on Thursday again.

On the other hand, Portugal are full of confidence after the biggest surprise of the qualification so far. “We have it all in our hands now,” said Gilberto Duarte on Thursday. If Portugal win the rematch, they will book their first EHF EURO ticket since 2006.

Hungary vs Russia
Sunday 14 April, 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

“This was the best match of our rejuvenated team in terms of defence,” said Hungary coach Istvan Csoknyai after the well-deserved 25:19 win over Russia in Astrakhan on Thursday night. It was mainly thanks to goalkeeping veteran Roland Mikler, who stood like a rock against the Russians.

With six points in their account, Hungary are almost through before the rematch, and can not only clinch their berth at the final tournament but also take a huge step towards winning the group on Sunday.

Though the clash is already the 15th duel between both sides, it is the second ever on Hungarian ground after the 29:25 home victory in 2015 in Veszprém on the way to the EHF EURO 2016.

Denmark vs Montenegro
Saturday 13 April, 20:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

In January in Royal Arena, Denmark started a journey that ended on the World Championship winners’ podium in Herning. Now, the same venue will play host as Denmark seek revenge against Montenegro after the 31:32 defeat on Wednesday.

“We missed too many chances and our defence was weak. There are many things we need to change to be successful on Saturday,” said Denmark coach Nikolaj Jacobsen.

Montenegro goalkeeper Nebojsa Simic had the match of his life in round 3.

“We won two bonus points, which might be highly decisive in the race for an EHF EURO ticket. Now we can be a little bit more relaxed,” said Simic after Montenegro’s first victory against the world and Olympic champions. “Maybe we can cause another surprise.”

His team are currently one point below Denmark and Ukraine.

Remaining round 4 fixtures:

Germany vs Poland – Saturday 13 April, 14:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Israel vs Kosovo – Sunday 14 April, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Switzerland vs Belgium – Sunday 14 April, 14:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Turkey vs Greece – Sunday 14 April, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Latvia vs Estonia – Sunday 14 April, 15:10 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Slovenia vs Netherlands – Sunday 14 April, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Belarus vs Czech Republic – Sunday 14 April, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Finland – Sunday 14 April, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Lithuania vs Romania – Sunday 14 April, 16:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Slovakia vs Italy – Sunday 14 April, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Faroe Islands vs Ukraine – Saturday 13 April, 17:45 local time*, live on ehfTV.com   
*in Copenhagen

written by Björn Pazen / cg