Five talking points after fiery finish of qualifiers
The Men’s EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers are over. All 24 teams for the final tournament in Germany have been confirmed after Sunday’s round 6. Three teams have sealed their maiden berths at the EHF EURO, one is returning after 28 years, and surprises have sprung throughout the qualifiers.
We unpack what has happened and analyse it with a fine-tooth comb, as we get ready for the draw of the preliminary round of the Men’s EHF EURO 2024, which will take place on 10 May in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Three rookies make the cut
Let’s talk about the rookies, shall we? Three new teams made the cut for the final tournament after a fiery last round in the qualifiers throughout Europe. Faroe Islands, Georgia and Greece will all make their debuts in the European top competition for men’s national teams.
For Faroe Islands, who have impressed in the past years in the younger age categories, it is only a testament of the sheer quality that this team oozes, the sign of promising things to come in the future. With a population of roughly 53,000, Faroe Islands are now the smallest-ever country to take part at the EHF EURO.
After many tries that ended in failure, Georgia will also take the court at the EHF EURO 2024, as their focus on young players have paid dividends at exactly the right time. Giorgi Tskhovrebadze and Nikoloz Kalandadze, two players that feature in France at club level, combined for 69 goals in the group, with their last-gasp 31:30 win over Hungary being etched into Georgian lore from now on.
Last but not least, Greece delivered an excellent start to their qualifiers campaign with a win against Netherlands. It proved a crucial win, as losses against Croatia and Netherlands in the last two rounds this week did not matter. Greece have impressed through AEK Athens HC at club level and now make the next step with their national team.
Three teams make it six out of six
Only three teams have swept their opponents on their way to finish the qualifiers with the maximum number of points. While France, the reigning Olympic champions, were probably expected to maintain an unbeaten status, the two other sides were surprise inclusions on this list.
Portugal and Austria had never won six out of six in a qualifiers group before, but wrote history and are two teams two watch in the final tournament in Germany next January. They used all their resources to secure a six-game winning streak and finish with 12 points.
Portugal displayed their high-octane brand of handball, being the third-best attack in the competition, with 210 goals scored in six games, sweeping North Macedonia, Türkiye and Luxembourg. And they did so while even resting some of their key players in the last two rounds, as even Costa brothers Francisco and Martim from Sporting CP were not selected for the Portugal squad.
Austria also had little trouble against Romania, Faroe Islands and Ukraine, scoring 105 goals on their home court against their three opponents, with at least 31 goals in each game. Austria had their ticket to neighbouring Germany already secured since the fourth round.
Romania end 28-year drought to make it to the EHF EURO
No team has waited more time between two berths at the EHF EURO than Romania, who are returning to a final tournament for the first time since 1996. A see-saw campaign ended their 28-year wait and saw highs and lows and three losses in the last four games.
In his second stint as the Romania men’s national team coach, Xavi Pascual is now heading for the first time to a major international tournament, but Romania look poised to have a tough time. Romania finished second with just four points – no other second-ranked team gathered fewer than eight points.
Their big home wins against Ukraine and Faroe Islands did the job, but Romania lost all three away matches and only seven teams scored fewer goals. Group 4 turned out the most balanced one, with three teams all finishing on four points behind winners Austria.
Tskhovrebadze writes history for himself and Georgia
Giorgi Tskhovrebadze announced himself as one of the players to watch in the future in the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship in 2019, when he was named the MVP of the competition. Now, the 22-year-old right back has become a player to watch in the EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers, creating a name for himself by scoring 42 goals and topping other stars in the scorer standings.
Tskhovrebadze has been a Montpellier HB player since 2019 and featured in the EHF European League Men this season, returning from a one-season loan to Pfadi Winterthur in Switzerland, where he also had 23 goals in the second-tier European competition.
His eight-goal outing against Hungary was special and included a last-second penalty, the key ingredient of Georgia’s 31:30 win as the right back cemented his status as the leader of his side. Tskhovrebadze beat Finland’s Max Granlund, Ukraine’s Ihor Turchenko, and Netherlands’ Kay Smits to the top goal scorer title, as the trio scored 40 goals each.
France, Croatia and Spain remain the evergreens
Facing Poland, Italy and Latvia was an easy task for France, as their head coach Guillaume Gille also navigated a plethora of injuries and tested new players to make it six out of six. It meant France earned their 16th berth – one of three teams that have taken part in each and every edition of the competition.
“Les Experts” are joined by Croatia in that club, albeit Goran Perkovac’s squad failed to impress in the EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers. Silver medallists in 2008, 2010 and 2020, Croatia had two coaches – Hrvoje Horvat and Perkovac – plenty of new players and see-saw results, with the last two matches seeing them tied at the break against Greece and Belgium, only to ride better second-half performances on their way to the win.
Spain are the third and final team present at each and every EHF EURO edition. They already sealed their berth for 2024 back in January 2022, when they lost the final to Sweden. With several new players in the squad, Spain finished third in the Men’s EHF EURO Cup 2024 after one win (at home against Germany) in a competition won by Denmark, who defeated Sweden 37:31 in the ‘final’ last Saturday.
photos © Anikó Kovács; Carsten Harz/Dienart; Peter Spark/PhotoReport; Jozo Cabraja/kolektiff