Slovakia keep hopes alive with narrow win

EHF / Björn Pazen

With four matches on Wednesday, part 1 of phase 2 of the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship qualifiers in Europe threw off as the teams chase a total of nine tickets.

Although Italy were close to a major sensation against Slovenia, they ultimately suffered an unlucky 29:28 loss. Meanwhile, Israel and Greece took quite comfortable leads to the second leg of their respective ties against Lithuania and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Belgium can still hope for their first ticket to an IHF Men's World Championship after a close 28:26 defeat in Slovakia. The aggregate winner of this tie will proceed due to the suspension of their scheduled opponents in the second round: Russia.

All reverse fixtures will be played on Saturday or Sunday, and the second play-off round will take place in mid-April.

Greece vs Bosnia and Herzegovina 24:17 (10:8)

  • Charalampos Mallios (13 goals) and goalkeeper Petros Boukovinas (17 saves) boosted Greece's hopes of facing Montenegro in the second round
  • after the 4:4 score in the 15th minute, Greece did not let the lead slip anymore, but Bosnia and Herzegovina were close until the 14:13 score in the 38th minute
  • a 6:1 run provided Greece with a comfortable 20:14 lead, and the red card for Petros Kandylas seven minutes before the end did not put the victory in danger
  • after Bosnia and Herzegovina had scored only four goals in the previous 22 minutes, Greece's victory was confirmed when they led 23:16 in the 58th minute
  • both sides have been part of one IHF Men's World Championship each: Greece in 2005 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015

Italy vs Slovenia 28:29 (16:14)

  • top Veszprém star Gasper Marguc scored 10 goals to prevent new head coach Uros Zorman from suffering a defeat against their neighbours in his debut on the bench
  • in the first half, Italy had turned a 12:10 deficit into a 16:14 half-time lead – and they even pulled ahead to a sensational 20:16 lead in the second half
  • this score was a turning point, as Slovenia enjoyed a 5:0 run, but still nothing was decided. Backed by goalkeeper Domenico Ebner (16 saves in total), Italy were back on track, leading 26:25 and 27:26
  • finally, a double strike from Aleks Vlah and the winning goal goal from Tilen Kodrin confirmed Slovenia's victory when they led 29:27. Umberto Bronzo (seven goals) was Italy's best scorer 
  • the aggregate winners of this tie will face Serbia in the second round. Italy have only played in one World Championship (in 1997), while Slovenia have nine participations – including the 2017 bronze medal – on their record

Israel vs Lithuania 28:24 (10:13)

  • the fans in Tel Aviv saw a match of two completely different halves. Israel turned the match around after the break thanks to a strong performance from goalkeeper Dan Tepper, who saved 15 shots, and a 9:3 run that took the score from 13:13 to 22:16
  • Lithuania had started in express mode, pulling ahead to an easy 6:1 lead – but after they led 12:7, Israel reduced the gap goal by goal
  • at the break, Aidenas Malasinskas had already scored six of his 11 goals – but Lithuania's goal machine was then stopped by the Israel defence for almost 20 minutes
  • the trio of Amiel Sidi (seven goals), Yonatan Dayan and Adir Cohen (five goals each) combined for 17 of Israel's 28 goals
  • while Israel have never qualified for a World Championship, Lithuania's only participation dates back to 1997; the aggregate winner of this tie will face Hungary in the second play-off round

Slovakia vs Belgium 28:26 (10:14)

  • the match was largely equal until the hosts took a 10:8 lead, but Belgium then grabbed their chance with a 5:0 run and took a surprising 14:10 lead at half-time
  • Slovakia clearly improved after the break, but the match was still on the edge, though Belgium made many mistakes in attack
  • several times, the hosts pulled ahead to a three-goal gap, but they could not fight off the brave “Lions”
  • the key figure at crunch time was Slovakia goalkeeper Michal Martin Konecny, who saved five shots in the last six minutes. Tomas Urban (eight goals) for the hosts and Serge Spooren (seven goals) for Belgium were the best scorers
  • Belgium have never played in an indoor World Championship, while Slovakia have only qualified in 2009 and 2011

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