Six national teams practically secured their respective spots at the 33rd European Championships in Barcelona (14 – 28 July) after the first leg of the men’s qualifications playoffs, that was played today. Favourites made no mistake. Germany, France, Romania, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Georgia achieved very convincing wins leaving no questions open for the second leg.
Only two games of the first leg offered excitements.
Ukraine was able to make a big comeback in the match against Turkey in Kharkiv. The Turks stunned the hosts in the first quarter and jumped to a 3:0 lead. They were 5:3 up at halftime. Then, Ukraine started climbing back. The home team took a lead for the first time in the 27th minute (7:6). Turkey, the last-placed team at the previous ECH (16th place), kept big chances to reach the 33rd European Championships by securing a draw (8:8) in a thrilling finish of the game.
Another ex-USSR country, Belarus faced Malta in Minsk. The guests from the small Mediterranean island dominated the first 12 minutes. Malta was 4:1 up in the middle of the second period. Belarus managed to turn around the deficit to a solid lead – 8:5 (04:09 before the last buzzer). Malta water polo players reduced the gap till the end (8:7). Now, they are not so far from their second consecutive appearance at the European Championships. They made a debut in Belgrade 2016 (15th place). But Belarus, that has never played at the ECH, isn’t without chances.
France, the 9th-placed at 2016 European Championships, had an easy task against Switzerland in Limoges. Switzerland its first goal scored in the 11th minute (5:1). After that, France held its rival scoreless till the end (18:1).
The Germans were merciless in an encounter between neighbours. Germany (11th in Belgrade) demolished Poland in Poznan. The hosts their first goal scored 35 seconds before the last break (1:15). The visitors, led by Nils Illinger (5 goals), achieved a 21:2 win, scoring five goals in the last 86 seconds.
Romania (10th at 2016 European Championships) blew away the Czech Republic – 20:5. Almost half of the goals for Romania were scored by two experienced players of Steaua Tiberiu Negrean (5 goals) and Michnea Chioveanu (4).
The Netherlands (12th in Belgrade 2016), that clinched its only title of European champion 68 years ago, cruised to the most convincing win of the day. They defeated Lithuania (28:7). The man of the match was Jesse Koopman (7 goals).
Slovakia (13th in Belgrade) did a clean job in a small Portuguese city Santa Maria de Lamas. The visiting team beat Portugal by a 12-goal margin (16:4).
Georgia, that took the 14th place in Belgrade two years ago, played excellently in defence and defeated Israel (12:1).
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS QUALIFICATIONS PLAYOFFS
MEN, 1ST LEG (24 FEBRUARY)
France – Switzerland 18:1 (4:0, 3:1, 4:0, 7:0), played in Limoges
Romania – Czech Republic 20:5 (5:1, 5:2, 6:2, 4:0), played in Izvorani
Poland – Germany 2:21 (0:5, 0:5, 1:5, 1:6), played in Poznan
Netherlands – Lithuania 28:7 (4:1, 6:2, 11:1, 7:3), played in Veenedaal
Georgia – Israel 12:1 (5:0, 2:0, 2:0, 3:1), played in Tbilisi
Portugal – Slovakia 4:16 (2:3, 0:3, 1:8, 1:2), played in Santa Maria de Lamas
Belarus – Malta 8:7 (0:2, 4:2, 2:1, 2:2), played in Minsk
Ukraine – Turkey 8:8 (0:3, 3:2, 2:1, 3:2), played in Kharkhiv.
Second leg: 3 March.
Already qualified: Serbia, Montenegro, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Russia.
WOMEN, 1ST LEG (17 FEBRUARY)
Slovakia – Turkey 11:11 (4:3, 1:2, 3:1, 3:5)
Czech Republic – Croatia 6:9 (1:4, 1:0, 2:1, 2:4)
Israel – Portugal 14:10 (2:2, 5:1, 4:4, 3:3)
Serbia – Ukraine 10:8 (1:1, 3:1, 3:3, 3:3)
Germany – Romania 22:14 (5:3, 5:3, 6:5, 6:3)
Played on 24 February
France – Switzerland 19:1 (5:1, 5:0, 6:0, 3:0), played in Limoges
Second leg: 3 March
Already qualified: Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Greece, and Spain