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Date: 3/19/2016

On the second day of the Rio 2016 Olympic Women’s Handball Qualifying Tournament III in Astrakhan, Russia, Helle Thomsen’s Swedish side beat Poland clearly to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics while Russia will join them after beating Mexico to guarantee their qualification.

Both matches started with a minute of silence in memory for the victims and those affected by the plane crash in Rostov-on-Don.

Poland vs Sweden 24:30 (12:16)
Sport Arena Zvezdny, Astrakhan, Russia

After losing to hosts Russia yesterday (27:25), Kim Rasmussen’s Polish side had to beat Sweden if they were to stand any chance of qualifying for Rio 2016, while the Scandinavians knew a victory would secure their place at the next edition of the Summer Olympic Games.

Ahead of the match Poland made the first of their two allowed player replacements as Frisch Auf Goppingen left back Klaudia Pielesz came in for line player Joanna Drabik, while Sweden also made their first, bringing in centre back Sabina Jacobsen for right back Jasmina Dapanovic.

Despite a top four finish at the 2015 IHF Women’s World Championship in Denmark, Poland could not reach the heights of their performance four months ago as they were behind from the second minute until the 60th as a complete team performance from the Swedes saw all but three of their court players make the scoresheet.

Louise Sand, best player of the match for Sweden in their opening 41:20 victory over Mexico yesterday, helped to establish a 3:1 lead with a double strike after six minutes and Poland sat on that solitary strike for the first 10 minutes as Johanna Bundsen (45% save rate in the game) made five saves for the yellow and blues, which were combined with numerous technical faults and turnovers from a nervy Polish side.

Four goals down at 7:3 and with 13 minutes on the clock, Rasmussen took a team time out to steady his troops and, once they cleared their heads, they battled to keep in touch mainly thanks to four first-half goals from right back Aleksandra Zych and the teams went into the break with Sweden up by four at 16:12.

Whatever Rasmussen said at half-time did the trick as two quick goals brought Poland to within two at 16:14, but that was a good as it got as Jenny Alm hit a hat-trick to restore the four-goal lead at 19:15 in the 37th minute.

Poland managed to restrain the four-goal deficit until 10 minutes of the contest remaining as Sweden decided to seal the deal, stepping up their performance as they extended their lead further and Poland desperately called a team time out to stem the flow two minutes later.

But it was to no avail and as Johanna Westberg smashed home with three seconds left to make it 30:24 to her Swedish side, the Polish tears started flowing.

Best Player of the Match: Johanna BUNDSEN (SWE) – goalkeeper

Russia vs Mexico 37:17 (17:11)
Sport Arena Zvezdny, Astrakhan, Russia

In front of a capacity 6,000 home fans for the second night running, Russia booked their ticket for Rio 2016 as they easily defeated the Mexicans, making their European debut and again showing first half promise.

With just six goals separating the sides at half-time, Mexico were within range of creating an upset but the mighty Russians rose to the challenge, restricting their opponents to just six goals in the second period while scoring 20 themselves.

Mexico led twice in the opening three minutes with Tania Navarro Briseno and Selene A. Sifuentes Hernandez making it 1:0 and then 2:1, but after eventual best player of the match Vladlena Bobrovnikova scored twice from her left back position to make it 4:2 the Russians after five minutes, they never looked back, extending their lead past the 15th minute to 21st to eight goals (14:6).

Iztel Aguirre Gallegos, scorer of eight goals against Sweden in Mexico’s opening match, was limited to just one strike as Russia dominated the opening seven minutes of the second half, going on a 8:0 run to kill the game, making it 25:11 – mainly thanks to five goals from Polina Gorshkova but also helped by a red card - following a previous warning and yellow card - for the Chihuahua line player Ana Gabriela Delgado Soto after just five minutes of the second period when Gorshkova, top scorer in the match with six goals, went through to score on a fastbreak following an Anna Sen steal.

Mexico, visibly tired, committed numerous technical faults throughout the second half as they bravely fought on in an atmosphere they are unlikely to have experienced before, but a further goal run from Russia of 6:0 between the 45th and 55th minutes, which took the goal difference to 19 (34:15), was the icing on the cake as the hosts face their toughest match of the tournament, against Sweden, tomorrow (20 March) to decide who finishes top.

Mexico will play Poland, hoping to get off of the mark and looking to capitalise on the disappointment the European side will be feeling after failing to qualify for Rio.

Best Player of the Match: Vladlena BOBROVNIKOVA (RUS) – left back