First two teams make it to the main round

MATCH REVIEW: Spain follow Iceland after hard-fought 27:25 victory against Norway

Photo: Aniko Kovacs

The first two participants of the main round in Herning are confirmed – and both will arrive from Aalborg.

World champions Spain - with some luck on their side - remained with a clear record of four points after two matches in Group B in Aalborg after they beat Norway in a tight and tough fight 27:25 (12:8) on Tuesday night.

The bravely fighting Norwegians, who were in the lead by two goals ten minutes before the end, remain on the bottom of this group, still waiting for their first point.

"It was a great handball match, one of that kind everybody expects from an European Championship," said Spanish head coach Manuel Cadenas.

"In the first half we had a solid defence, after the break Norway improved, backed by the great saves of Ole Erevik.

"But finally our defence, Victor Tomas and Joan Canellas decided this tight match for us. To be honest: Both teams could have won this game."

Norway now need to beat Hungary in their final group match on Thursday in order to remain part of the tournament, while a draw will be enough for the Hungarians.

At the top of the table the duel Iceland vs. Spain will not only decide the group winners, but also the amount of points both teams will take to Herning.

Norway showed a brilliant performance throughout the entire 60 minutes and  clearly improved from the initial stage of the opener against Iceland on Sunday.

Led by Bjarte Myrhol and Andre Lindboe, fully backed by the overall 18 saves of goalkeeper Ole Erevik and boosted by the "red army" on the stands, Norway put up a great fight against the world champions, leading by 3:2 after six minutes.

Then the empire, aka Spain, stroke back and forged ahead to 8:4 that included four counter attack goals of Spanish team captain Victor Tomas.

Meanwhile goalkeeper Jose Manuel Sierra enjoyed a sensational saving percentage of 65 per cent at the break.

But after a timeout of coach Robert Hedin the Scandinavians returned on track, reducing the gap to only one goal at 7:8 and regained hope to turn the match around.

But again the rollercoaster turned its direction, and Spain marched ahead to the half-time score of 12:8, which could even have been clearer, but Erevik saved two penalties from Spain.

"We had talked about, that we should keep the focus on our own game, because then we could better attack Spain and then we would have a bigger opportunity to win the match," Erevik said.

"In the first half we were a bit careful, but we kept hanging on.

"In the second half we came out strong and played a really good second half."

Erevik, awarded as best Norwegian player, got even better in the second half, shutting up his shop and providing his teammates with the confidence they needed to equalise for the first time again at 15:15 in the 40th minute before even forging ahead to 18:16 with a double-strike of Espen Lie Hansen.

Spain had lost their rhythm and pace in attack against a rock-solid Norwegian defence – but there was exception: Tomas was the 1,78 metre tall 'tower of power' in a shaken Spanish team.

When they led 22:20 with ten minutes remaining on the clock, Norway still lived their dream of beating the world champions, before three straight penalty shots  - executed in an ice-cold way by Joan Canellas (awarded best Spanish player) turned the match around.

And when Sierra (17 saves in total) returned between the bars, the Spanish defence improved again.

However, Norway never gave up and struggled hard for every centimetre and every goal.

But when again Canellas stroke by penalty again to make it 26:24 in the dying minute, the deal was sealed – but much closer than anybody had expected beforehand.

And the confidence in the Norwegian camp did not disappear.

"If we win against Hungary we go to the main round, and I think we have a good chance of winning this match if we play as well as today.

"We have to be there 110 per cent," said right wing Andre Lindboe.

written by Björn Pazen / ts