World Championship places fully booked
Spain fought back against a strong-starting Austria to take a narrow two-goal win and make sure they secured a place at the 2023 IHF Women's World Championship in Denmark, Norway and Sweden as European qualification concluded on Wednesday.
The two-time world medallists were under pressure after a draw in the first leg on Saturday, but a good last quarter gave them the win and dashed Austrian hopes of a second consecutive appearance at the final tournament.
Earlier, the nations which had earned comfortable first-leg wins went on to win their second-leg ties and qualify for the final tournament. In particular, Germany took a huge 42-goal aggregate victory over Greece.
The eight teams qualifying on Wednesday join Ukraine and the Czech Republic, who booked their spots on Tuesday, plus co-hosts Denmark, Norway and Sweden and the three highest-ranked non-hosting teams at the Women’s EHF EURO 2022: Montenegro, France, and the Netherlands.
QUALIFICATION EUROPE PHASE TWO, SECOND LEG
Greece vs Germany 20:36 (11:20) - 33:75 on aggregate
Germany have not missed out on a Women's World Championship in 22 years and after a 39:13 victory in the first leg it was unlikely they would do so this time around. The return leg was even for about five minutes before Germany put their feet on the gas and powered out to a 10:4 lead inside the first quarter. The visitors were simply more accurate and powerful in every regard, and did not give Greece many chances. Xenia Smits had a perfect day, scoring six from six; on the Greek side, centre back Maria Chatziparasidou stood out with six goals from seven shots.
Slovenia vs Italy 33:21 (18:13) - 64:46 on aggregate
It was a slow start to the game, with both teams making mistakes. Ema Abina was first to score for Slovenia after more than two minutes, with Ilaria Dalla Costa levelling the match just 12 seconds later. Slovenia then took control, and seemed to be cruising to a big half-time lead - only for Italy to rally, closing back up to a three-goal deficit a couple of times. But Slovenia responded, a 4:1 run helping to extend the lead once more just before the break. Once the match resumed the hosts powered on, moving to a double-digit lead with over 15 minutes remaining, helped by an astonishing performance from goalkeeper Maja Vojnovic who stopped 17 out of 35 shots for a save efficiency of 48 per cent. Meanwhile Slovenian right back Alja Varagic and 20-year-old Italian line player Osarosemwen Eghianruwa both scored eight times as Slovenia booked their World Championship berth.
Croatia vs Slovakia 31:18 (17:10) - 56:41 on aggregate
Slovakia reached the 2021 World Championship for only the second time in history after being handed a wild card, but Croatia stood in their way for a chance to qualify by right this time around. While the first leg was close, with Croatia winning by only two goals, the second leg was a different story. Croatia's goalkeepers Tea Pijevic and Lucija Bešen combined for 18 saves (50 per cent) and right back Dejana Milosavljevic netted eight out of nine shots, helping their side secure their second consecutive World Championship berth despite conceding seven two-minute suspensions and nine penalties, five of which the visitors scored. But as Slovakia failed to score in the last six minutes of the game, the win was sealed early on.
Serbia vs Türkiye 32:25 (16:15) - 65:49 on aggregate
This year's World Championship will be the sixth in a row for Serbia, after they stepped up in the second half of the second leg to defeat a feisty Turkish side who threw everything into the first 30 minutes of the game. Türkiye kept pace with Serbia throughout the first half, even leading on several occasions, but Serbia took a one-goal lead to the dressing rooms and never looked back. Turkish right back Beyza Karaçam, who is just 22, shone with 10 goals from 13 shots, but a more consistent team performance by the hosts paid off. Jovana Risovic ended with a 52 per cent save efficiency (nine saves), while left back Jovana Stoiljkovic was Serbia's top scorer with seven goals. It was the last international game for Stoiljkovic as well as Jelena Lavko, Tamara Radojevic, Kristina Liscevic and Kristina Gravovac.
We did not show a good game in the first half, but in the second half we raised the level of the game and showed what we know. Good defence and counterattacks contributed to this result and I am glad that we ended this qualification cycle with a victory. It was emotional, we saw off the players who played the last match for Serbia in the best possible way, and we thank them for everything they did for the national team.
Hungary vs Iceland 34:28 (17:14) - 59:49 on aggregate
Hungary have only ever missed two World Championships and have nine medals to their name, making them the clear favourites in this tie. However Iceland showed potential, losing by only 10 goals on aggregate and staying well in touch with their hosts in the second leg until the last 10 minutes. From trailing 9:17 just five minutes before the first-half buzzer, Iceland scored a 5:0 run to make it a three-goal game. They kept the pressure on in the second half, bringing it back to one goal several times. But a 4:1 run in the closing minutes, spearheaded by Viktória Gyori-Lukács, was enough to give Hungary victory and secure their place at Denmark/Norway/Sweden. Hungarian centre back Petra Vamos and Icelandic right back Thea Imani Sturludottir were top scorers, both with eight strikes.
Kosovo vs Poland 20:32 (12:17) - 42:68 on aggregate
The Polish goalkeepers were the clear standouts in the second leg of this tie, which Poland came into having earned a 36:22 win in the first leg. Adrianna Placzek and Barbara Zima combined for 12 saves (37 per cent), while the Kosovan trio of goalkeepers were able to stop just two Polish shots between them. Poland began strongly, quickly moving out to a 5:0 lead before right back Leonora Demaj managed to score for Kosovo, and were then able to stay ahead to book their spot at the final tournament. Demaj ended with seven goals, equal to the score of Polish duo Monika Kobylinska and Dagmara Nocun.
Spain vs Austria 26:24 (11:12) - 54:52 on aggregate
The game was up and down from the whistle, with neither side able to establish a conclusive advantage throughout the first half. Austria briefly held a two-goal lead before Spain pegged them back with a 4:1 run. The second half began in the same fashion, as Austria kept pulling ahead before Spain fought back. The tide finally turned in the hosts' favour in the 43rd minute, when Alicia Fernandez netted a penalty for 18:17, and Spain led then until the end of the match. Although Austria will regret not being able to bring qualification home, the result shows huge promise for a side with a large number of young players - including 20-year-old left back Katarina Pandza, who was her team's top scorer with six goals. Jennifer Gutiérrez also scored six for Spain.
Portugal vs Romania 24:28 (8:13) - 44:63 on aggregate
Portugal lost the first leg by 15 goals, effectively ending their hopes of qualification - but they produced a much better performance at home, and go out knowing they can contend with a strong and experienced team. Nevertheless, Romania led throughout and showed why they are perennial participants at the World Championships. Yuliya Dumanska was perhaps the key to victory, with a massive save efficiency of 53 per cent - nine saves from 17 shots, making sure Romania went to the break five goals up. Portugal showed plenty of fighting spirit particularly towards the end of the match, a 3:1 run closing them up from 21:27 to the final score of 24:28. Back Sandra Santiago was top scorer with six goals, ahead of Romanian line player Lorena Ostase with five.