23 Jan. 2020
Three of the four teams that played the semi-finals at the 2017 IHF Men’s World Championship in France have reached the penultimate stage at the Men’s EHF EURO 2020: Croatia, Norway and Slovenia. The three are joined by the defending European title holders Spain, who will aim to reach their fourth consecutive final in the continental championship.
The semi-finals will be played on Friday 24 January, with Spain meeting Slovenia and Croatia taking on Norway. For the final four teams there is something other than the European title on the line – the nation that claims the EHF EURO trophy will qualify directly for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
However, the four semi-finalists are at least sure to play the Olympic Qualification Tournaments. While Croatia, Spain and Norway already had places in the Olympic Qualification Tournaments before the EURO began due to their placement at the 2019 World Championship, Slovenia have now joined the line-up to play for spots at Tokyo 2020 thanks to their semi-final berth.
For Norway, Croatia and Spain, the EURO 2020 semi-final tickets were confirmed early. Croatia were the first to book a place to the final weekend in Stockholm after winning a thrilling match in a comeback 25:24 against 2016 EURO winners Germany on the second of four main round days.
Playing in main round Group I, Spain secured their place in the semi-finals with a win over Belarus 37:28 and set up a top-of-the-table clash versus Croatia on the last day of the stage on 22 January. After yet another stunning comeback from Croatia, the match ended in a draw 22:22 that meant the teams finished level on points, but Spain topped the group due to goal difference.
Alongside their draw with Croatia, Spain defeated Czech Republic 31:25, tournament co-hosts Austria 30:26, and Belarus in the main round group in Vienna. Croatia also won against Austria 27:23 and Czech Republic 22:21, and had beaten Belarus 31:23 in the preliminary round – the same stage where Spain took a critical victory over Germany 33:26.
Playing in Group II in Malmö, Norway finished the main round as the only team at the EURO with a perfect record. Their semi-final ticket was secured before the final main round day, when co-hosts Sweden took their first victory of the stage against Hungary 24:18.
Norway’s last win in the main round came against Slovenia 33:30, whose semi-final ticket was confirmed immediately before they stepped on the court to face the 2017 and 2019 World Championship finalists. Slovenia relied on a Portugal win over Hungary – had Hungary won the clash, Slovenia would have needed at least one point against Norway.
In the end, Portugal did Slovenia a favour and settled the main round places with their victory.
The result was also important for Portugal, who have now ensured their highest ever ranking at the EHF EURO, after qualifying for the event for the first time since 2006. Portugal will play in the five/six play-off, where they will meet the third-placed team from Group I, Germany, in Stockholm on Saturday.
While Norway won all their main round games, also defeating Hungary, Sweden and Iceland in Malmö, Slovenia had one loss in addition to that against Norway in the stage, versus Hungary. Their victories over Iceland and Portugal were enough to see them through to the final weekend, however.
Norway are the only co-host of the EURO remaining in the race for the title. Both Sweden and Austria were eliminated in the main round, with Sweden placing seventh overall and Austria taking eighth position on the final ranking.
The top scorer of the EHF EURO 2020 so far is Norway's Sander Sagosen, with 51 goals. He is 10 goals shy from reaching Macedonian Kiril Lazarov’s all-time record for the most goals scored in one EURO, and has two matches remaining to reach the milestone.
More information on the Men’s EHF EURO 2020 can be found on the official website.
PHOTO: JOZO CABRAJA / KOLEKTIFF