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Swiss handballers make winning start

Switzerland's Ivan Ursic gets ready to score

(Keystone)

Switzerland's national handball team have begun their qualifying campaign for the 2002 European Championships with an impressive victory.

Despite the loss of several key personnel in recent months, Arno Ehret's side managed to get the better of a much-fancied Lithuanian side. Playing in canton Zurich, Switzerland won their opening match 26-23.

After letting in two early goals, the Swiss team fought back almost immediately to take a 5-4 lead. From then on the home side refused to relinquish control of the match, opening up a seven-goal margin by half time.

Lithuania narrowed the gap in the closing minutes of the game but were unable to draw level.

Retirements, withdrawals and a number of injuries had forced Ehret into naming a young, inexperienced side for Thursday's match, but the key player turned out to be one of the few old masters. Captain Robbie Kostadinovich marked his 106th appearance for the national side with a tally of nine goals.

"With a more experienced team we could have beaten this Lithuanian side 30-20," Kostadinovich said after the match. "At times our style of play was just too hectic."

The Lithuanians will be looking to exact swift revenge over Switzerland when the two sides meet again on Sunday. The Swiss will be without home advantage for the second encounter which is being played in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas.

To reach the qualifying play-offs for the European Championships, Switzerland have to finish first or second in their four-team qualifying group, which also includes the Faroe Islands and former world champions Romania.

It remains to be seen if the Swiss team will stick to the unusual warm-up exercise that served them so well before Thursday's game. After the match was over it was revealed that 11 Swiss players had spent 40 minutes stuck in a hotel lift without any apparent effect on their subsequent performance!

swissinfo with agencies

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