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Date: 3/18/2016

In the opening day of the Rio 2016 Olympic Women’s Handball Qualifying Tournament III in Astrakhan, Russia, the host side received a visit from the Deputy Prime Minister in their changing room as they celebrated a two-goal win against the tough Polish side, while the strong Swedish side, as expected, beat Mexico, making their first-ever appearance on European soil.

Poland vs Russia 25:27 (11:11)
Sport Arena Zvezdny, Astrakhan, Russia

In front of a packed 6,000 spectators inside the Sport Arena Zvezdny in Astrakhan, southern Russia, Evgeniy Trefilov’s home side put in a performance that gave the home fans something to shout about as both sides set out on their final chance to qualify for Rio 2016.

Poland started the brightest, but could not find the net despite having two chances to open the scoring as line player Monika Stachowska missed her penalty which was swiftly following by Russia’s right wing Anna Vyakhireva opening the scoring and then stealing to score again to make it 2:0 to the Russians after four minutes, they extended their lead to 3:0 soon after but Poland woke up and kept themselves in the game until the half, with the scores all even at 11:11.

Poland could have been in the lead but for a succession of saved shots in the 20th minute as Russian goalkeeper Anna Sedoykina provided a strong line of defence to keep out three attempts from Kim Rasmussen’s side.

The second half saw the teams again in tight proximity, with the visitors taking the lead for just the fourth time in the 52nd minute as Monika Kobylinska made it 23:22.

As the game entered the final minute, Trefilov took his final team time out with 59 seconds left and the scores all even at 25:25.

His team immediately came out and Vyakhireva - who finished top scorer on seven goals -  smashed home to make it 26:25 to Russia. A missed shot from Polish left wing Agnieszka Jochymek was punished by Olga Akopian, the Russian left back as her side went 27:25 up and despite a final team time out from Poland and the extra court player, Russia held on to look forward to their clash with Mexico tomorrow (Saturday 19 March).

Best Player of the Match: Anna VYAKHIREVA (RUS) - right wing.

Sweden vs Mexico 41:20 (21:9)
Sport Arena Zvezdny, Astrakhan, Russia

Mexico made their international bow on a European stage and more than impressed those watching as they fought hard but finally succumbed to a strong second half showing from Sweden.

As expected, the Scandinavians led for the whole match, but with the score at 8:5 and the central American side down by just three, the Europeans stepped up their performance on 15 minutes to  accelerate away.

The Mexicans had even brought the scores level at 2:2 in the 5th minute thanks to their dominant centre back Iztel Aguirre Gallegos, who ended up top-scorer in the match with eight strikes – an excellent return against the tough Swedish defence.

However, consistent turnovers and technical mistakes from the Mexicans saw the Swedes increase their lead to 12 at the half (21:9) as Helle Thomsen’s team spread their scoring around the court, as in the end, just Jenny Alm and goalkeeper Johanna Bundsen were the only players not to score for them - even her fellow co-goalkeeper Filippa Idehn scored, with a deep shot to make it 32:16 in the 46th minute. Swedish left wing Louise Sand top scored for her side with five.

As the Mexican side tired, the difference went up to 21 goals in the closing moments, but despite the final result, the central Americans can be proud of making history and will look forward to their meeting with the hosts tomorrow (Saturday 19 March) whilst Sweden face Poland, knowing a win will be enough to get their golden Rio ticket, combined with a Russian victory.

Best Player of the Match: Louise SAND (SWE) - left wing.