Russia have qualified for every women’s European Handball Championship since its inception in 1994.
Now, the Rio 2016 gold medallists are in danger of missing the 12th edition of the tournament.
With just two games left in qualifying this week, there is a strong possibility the finals will be without one of the powerhouses of the sport.
Only the top two teams from each of the seven groups are assured of reaching the competition to be held in France at the end of the year.
The top third-placed team will also qualify, once results against last-placed teams have been discounted.
This year’s European Handball Championship also serves as a qualifier for the Olympic Games, with the winners gaining entry to Tokyo 2020.
Surprise defeats for Russia
Russia currently sit third in Group Four of the qualification tournament, following surprise defeats to Austria and Romania.
Ahead of the final two rounds of qualifying, they know only victories in their remaining games against Portugal and Austria will guarantee them a spot in France.
|After four of six qualifying games in Group Four|
Austria host Romania on Thursday (31 May), meaning two wins for the Russians would definitely see them finish in the top two.
But defeat in their final game at home to Austria on 3 June would leave them in peril, as their games against Portugal will be ignored when comparing third-placed teams.
Russia faced the Romanians twice in the last set of games, held two months ago.
After a 30–25 victory on home soil on 21 March, they were beaten 25–26 in the return fixture in Cluj four days later.
That was their second reverse of the campaign after a shock loss in Austria.
Despite their European Handball Championship ever-presence, Russia have never won the title.
The four-time world champions were runners-up to Norway in 2006, and finished seventh in 2016.
Netherlands on the charge
The Dutch are a rising force in women’s handball, having made the semi-finals of the last four major tournaments.
But a title has so far eluded them, taking second place in the 2015 World Championships before finishing fourth in Rio.
They were then second in the 2016 European Championships and third in the 2017 Worlds.
|After four of six qualifying games in Group Seven|
The Netherlands and Hungary are locked at the top of Group Seven, with the Dutch ahead on goal difference.
Their two meetings both ended in one-goal away victories.
Hungary eked out a 23–22 win in Eindhoven in the last round of fixtures to gain revenge for an 18–19 reverse at home.
Those results mean a win for the Dutch against Belarus on Thursday will seal progress to the finals.
The Hungarians will qualify with victory over Kosovo on Wednesday combined with a Dutch triumph a day later.
A new addition to the top table?
European handball could be about to welcome its newest debutant to its top ranks.
A win for Switzerland on Wednesday against Group One’s bottom team Croatia would see them reach their first major competition.
The Swiss have never taken part in a European, World, or Olympic championship.
Should they slip up, their final game will be at runaway group winners Norway, which may take direct qualification out of their hands.
Ones to watch
As well as hosts and current world champions France, three teams have already booked their spots in the finals.
Seven-time champions Norway are seeking their third consecutive title.
They have won all four of their qualifying games so far with ease, scoring 129 goals and running up a goal difference of +43.
Also through are Denmark, who are bidding for their first European crown since 2002.
And Montenegro will make their fifth straight appearance at the Euros, hoping to repeat their triumph of 2012.