The Italian team opened its campaign in Budapest with a fine win over Greece, the world champions were really convincing in the second half. The title-holder Serbians had some struggles in the third period against Russia but bounced back in time and won with ease at the end. Two games saw enormous battles since here the third places in the respective groups and the berth in the top 12 (and possibly in the Olympic qualification tournament) were at stake. Surprisingly, Georgia beat Rio 2016 participant France and the Netherlands came back from two goals down to win against Romania.
Men’s preliminaries, Round 1
Group A: Slovakia v Montenegro 4-15, Germany v Croatia 9-17
Group B: Serbia v Russia 13-9, Romania v Netherlands 8-9
Group C: Turkey v Hungary 5-19, Malta v Spain 7-23
Group D: Italy v Greece 10-6, France v Georgia 7-9
Greece’s miserable run against Italy at the Europeans didn’t come to an end in Budapest either. They have never beaten their Mediterranean rival (Italy won 10 out of 11 games, one ended in a tie) – and their hopes to halt this terrible streak lived only till halftime. Then it stood 4-4 but Italy came back strong for the third, shut out the Greeks for 6:54 minutes, scored three connecting goals and that did the damage. They won the second half 6-2, drowned the Greek offence – the number of shots (34-21) and those on target (23-12) tells the story.
The other game in this group offered even more the tensions as Georgia pulled off a surprising win over France. It was a balanced match but the Georgians made most of their chances in the second half while the French could score only twice in this phase after netting five in the first. With 6:47 to go it stood 7-7 but Georgia scored two in a span of 44 seconds and managed to kill all French attacks in the remaining 5:24 minutes.
Earlier, a thrilling match kicked off the men’s event, which saw the Netherlands staging a big comeback against Romania to earn a crucial win. The Dutch led at halftime 4-5 but Romania enjoyed a great spell in the third, netted four goals to go 8-6 up. But they were unable to score more in the last period (their drought lasted 9:51 minutes indeed) while the Dutch started rolling and with a 0-3 rush they turned the game and bagged three points and set themselves to reach the top 12.
In the other game of Group B the Serbs seemed to sit comfortable in the driving seat as they led 7-4 at halftime only to see the Russians netting three connecting goals in a span of 1:55 minutes early in the third for 7-7. However, the title-holders responded well, hit back with a double in 66 seconds and did the same after 9-8 in the fourth to secure their win at the end.
As expected, in Group A and D the favourites enjoyed easy matches while they geared up the engines. Both Montenegro and Croatia claimed surprisingly easy wins, even though after the first period nothing promised an easy cruise either of them. The two greats were 1-2 down after eight minutes against Slovakia and Germany respectively, then the Montenegrins staged a 6-0 rush and won the second half 8-2 while the Croats won the middle two periods 12-3.
Spain also had a slow start against Malta (4-3), then speeded up and scored 19 more goals. Hungary did the same, spent the opening quarter with calming down, and that was quite visible on the scoreboard (4-4). But once they found the necessary level in concentration, Turkey had to face the inevitable, which came in a form of a 15-1 blast, much to the joy of the home crowd.