Four tales from a remarkable week of qualifiers
Things really heated up on the road to the Men’s EHF EURO 2022 this past week as the plethora of qualifiers offered us no end of dramatic comebacks, brilliant individual performances and the odd surprise result.
Among the hustle and bustle of 32 teams battling for 20 tickets to Hungary and Slovakia next January, here are four stories which stood out.
Mr. Buzzer beater
Need to score a last-second goal? Put the ball in the hands of Kay Smits.
He was on the receiving end of an amazing pass from Luc Steins to score one of the best match-winning goals in years and snatch victory away to Poland on Sunday.
The Dutch right back has scored the Netherlands’ final goal to earn all five of their points in EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers so far:
- 59:48 minutes vs Turkey to win 27:26
- 59:59 minutes vs Slovenia to draw 27:27
- 59:59 minutes vs Poland to win 27:26
Smits is the joint-top scorer in the qualifiers with 35 goals in four matches and his side are on the verge of qualifying for their second final tournament in a row.
Kosovo in the hunt to make history
With the Men’s EHF EURO having expanded to 24 teams in 2020, the qualifiers offer new found for many teams who looked unlikely to break into the 16.
It is clear to see how much the likes of Portugal, Switzerland and Netherlands have benefitted since qualifying for the first time in decades or the first time at all. Now it looks like we may have another first-time qualifier in our midst.
Having lost to Romania by double digits in three previous meetings, Kosovo shocked their more experienced opponents with a second-half comeback to draw 23:23 on Wednesday. But it got even better for them on Sunday as they controlled the match away from home to claim a historic 30:25 win.
The victory puts them joint-second in Group 8, level with Romania and one point ahead of Montenegro. Mark 28 April in your calendars for Kosovo vs Montenegro, a match which could see Kosovo complete a remarkable qualifier journey.
Ambidextrous youngster makes a splash
18-year-old Elias Ellefsen a Skipagotu was featured in August as one to watch, after he led Faroe Islands’ under-17 to a European Open title in 2019, and on Sunday he proved worthy of the hype with his performance against Ukraine.
Backed by a joyous crowd in Torshavn, Faroe Islands came within an inch of grabbing a point, losing 26:25, but the performance of the two-handed back court player was among the many positives to take away from the game. Making his senior international debut, Ellefsen a Skipagotu led a second half charge and top scored for the islanders with seven goals.
Lazarov experiences the coaching rollercoaster
Kiril Lazarov had his first taste of coaching last week and it was so, so sweet. Having recently been announced as player-coach, the legendary right back played most of the game in attack as he and the rejuvenated Macedonian team scored their first competitive win over reigning world champions Denmark, winning 33:29 on Thursday.
Lazarov decided to throw the tracksuit on and stick to coaching for the return fixture on Sunday and it was a very different experience. With their pride wounded, Denmark came firing back and were ruthless in a 37:21 victory, leaving coach Kiril with plenty to ponder before they regroup for their final group 7 matches against Finland on 28 April and Switzerland on 2 May.