ZAGREB (Reuters) – Holders Germany took a stride toward the European handball championship semi-finals with a rugged 22-19 win over the Czech Republic while Olympic champions Denmark followed in their footsteps after a 31-28 victory against Slovenia on Friday.
The results put both teams level on four points atop the main round’s Group II, one more than surprise package Macedonia who face Spain (two points) on Sunday.
In Group I, the top four teams are locked on four points each ahead of their doubleheader on Saturday when hosts Croatia play Norway and Sweden meet world champions France.
The top two from each of the six-team groups will advance to the semi-finals, with the final scheduled for Jan. 28.
Following a pair of fortunate draws with Slovenia and Macedonia in their preliminary pool, Germany dug deep to avoid another upset and overpowered the Czechs thanks to eight goals from Steffen Fath and good goalkeeping from Andreas Wolff.
The Germans scored six goals without reply to wipe out an 18-16 deficit and Wolff pulled off several stunning saves during the streak, including a penalty by the Czech Republic’s top scorer Ondrej Zdrahala.
Zdrahala had a quiet game after rifling in 14 goals in a 33-27 preliminary round pool win over Hungary which sent the Czechs through but was held to four goals from 12 shots by the stubborn Germany defense.
The Danes pulled away from battling Slovenia, who were roared on by a full house of their fervent fans in the Varazdin Arena, midway through the second half with winger Lasse Svan netting 11 goals to claim the Man of the Match award.
Denmark made good use of the space on both flanks and their quick movement of the ball in attack allowed Casper Mortensen to thrive and net six goals.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ken Ferris)