Austria draw with Spain thanks to second half comeback
Qualification Europe Phase 2 for the IHF Women’s World Championship 2023 continued on Saturday, 8 April with six first leg fixtures. Three matches (Ukraine vs North Macedonia, Czech Republic vs Switzerland and Austria vs Spain) were close contests leaving a lot to be decided in the second leg. And, three matches (Romania vs Portugal, Iceland vs Hungary and Italy vs Slovenia) were more one-sided with the losing sides needing significant turnarounds in leg 2 in order to qualify.
The Czech Republic edged Switzerland in the first match of the day. The match started evenly with neither side gaining a significant advantage. Midway through the first half the Czech Republic broke a 9:9 tie and managed to pull ahead for a 12:14 halftime lead. In the second half, the guests managed to widen their lead pulling ahead by four goals, 14:18, early in the second half. Later with the score 28:32 and seven minutes remaining, however, the hosts managed to go on a three goal run to narrow the margin to a one-goal victory, 31-32, and to give them a fighting chance in the return leg on Tuesday. Markéta Jerábková and Veronika Mala scored nine each for the Czech Republic while Nuria Bucher led Switzerland with eight.
Portugal managed to keep the match close, 6:5 for 10 minutes, but Romania eventually showed their class, breaking away for a 19:12 half-time lead. The second half was more of the same as Portugal never threatened and Romania poured it on for a 15 goal margin of victory. Sorina Grozav (seven goals) led a balanced Romanian attack that saw 11 players on the roster score. Patricia Da Silva Lima led Portugal with five goals.
Iceland and Hungary played a match with alternating scoring runs. The first 20 minutes were evenly played, but with the score 9:10, Hungary closed out the half with a 4:1 goal run to take a four-goal lead at the half. Hungary continued their scoring streak and extended their lead to to 12:20 thanks in part to two goals scored in quick succession by left wing, Nadine Schatzl. Down, but not out, Iceland than fought back with an 8:2 run to make the score 20:22 with four minutes remaining. At which point Hungary righted the ship to close out the match 21:25 and to take an four-goal lead into the second leg to be played in Hungary on Wednesday.
Austria and Spain arguably played the match of the day with the underdog Austrians mounting a second half comeback for a well earned draw. The match was a a tight affair to start, but Spain gradually took control and extended their lead to four goals at the half-time break. In the second half Austria mounted a steady comeback that saw them draw level at 21:21, 11 minutes into the second half. The match then stayed close for a while, but with nine minutes left Spain pulled ahead for a 25:28 lead and appeared to have the game well in hand. But, Austria with solid defensive play and strong goalkeeping from Petra Blazek kept Spain scoreless for the rest of the match while they added three goals, including a goal by Katarina Pandza to tie the match with three seconds remaining. Patricia Kozacs led all scorers with nine goals for Austria while Kaba Gassama and Alexandrina Barbosa each scored five goals for Spain.
An improving Italian side put up a good fight against a heavily favoured Slovenia, but could not keep pace for all 60 minutes. In fact, it was really just a bad stretch towards the end of the first half where Slovenia took a six-goal lead that did most of the damage. In the second half Slovenia held on to the lead as Italy could not close the gap. Italy was led in scoring by Ilaria Dalla Costa and Sofa Ghilardi with six goals each while Tjaša Stanko led Slovenia with seven.
A strong defensive effort in the first half saw the visitors, Ukraine, grab a six-goal half-time lead. North Macedonia, however, quickly stormed back right out of the gate in the second half with an 8:2 run to tie the score 16:16 at the 42 minute mark. Ukraine than responded with three straight goals to take a 16:19 lead, which they held on to for the remainder of the match and the eventual 22:24 final score. Ukraine will therefore have a two-goal lead for the return leg which will be played in Kisvárda, Hungary. North Macedonia's Sara Ristovski led all scorers with seven goals while three players (Mariana Markevych, Tamara Smbatien and Yevheniia Levchenko) paced Ukraine with five each.