ZAGREB (Reuters) - Sweden will carry a maximum four points into the European handball championship main round after a 35-31 win over hosts Croatia who also advanced on Tuesday.
The result helped Serbia progress from preliminary pool A as they beat Iceland 29-26 in the early fixture but would have been eliminated had Croatia beaten the Swedes.
World champions France charged through from Pool B with a perfect record after a 32-25 win over Belarus as right back Dika Mem rifled in nine goals and playmaker Nikola Karabatic got six.
Norway won 39-28 against eliminated Austria to join France and Belarus in a new group of six, which also contains Sweden, Croatia and Serbia, with the top two reaching the semi-finals.
With Macedonia, Germany, Spain and Denmark already through to the other second-stage group of six from Pool C and D respectively, the last two berths will be decided on Wednesday.
Croatia coach Lino Cervar’s decision to rest first-choice goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic backfired spectacularly as his replacements Ivan Pesic and Ivan Stevanovic were left clutching thin air in Split’s Spaladium Arena.
Sweden pierced through almost at will and never looked back after turning an early 4-3 deficit into a massive nine-goal advantage thanks to effervescent long-range shooting and quick ball movement in attack.
Earlier on Tuesday, Serbia rallied from a four-goal deficit midway through the second half to beat more fancied Iceland, who made an early exit after falling apart in the last 15 minutes.
Iceland’s 38-year old winger Gudjon Valur Siggurdson put on a majestic one-man show with a game-high eight goals but Serbia fired on all cylinders when the chips were down.
Norway controlled a high-scoring contest against Austria as Kristian Bjornsen capped a fine evening with nine goals.
The top three from each of the four pools who advance to the main round carry over points won against each other.
France and Sweden will start with four points each, Croatia and Norway have two while Serbia and Belarus have none.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ken Ferris