A Night To Remember
December 6, 2016
It was a “must-win” game for Spain en route to the main round of EURO 2016 in Gothenburg. Yet, it wasn’t meant to be – not on this night at Hovet arena in Sweden’s capital. The young crew from Serbia secured a spectacular victory against the silver medalist of EURO 2014, courtesy of a fantastic performance of goalkeeper Marija Colic. Slovenia’s surprising win against the host concluded an exciting handball evening, turning Group A upside down.
Before the Game
Given the results on Day 1 of the tournament, after the loss to Sweden, Spain was under pressure to defeat Serbia. And given the Balkan’s squad poor defense performance in their opening match against Slovenia, a victory for Carmen Martin & Co was certainly on the horizon before throw-off.
Earlier Spain’s defense specialist, Lara Gonzalez, had taken to social media, stating something along the lines that her team would not take any prisoners in the match against Serbia. It turned out to be wishful thinking. From the get go Serbia took matters in their own hands, leading the affair throughout the first half backed by several spectacular saves of goalkeeper Marija Colic.
On the other end of the pitch left back, Jovana Stoiljkovic and Sanja Radosaljevic from left wing inflicted most of the damage on a Spanish defense formation that was struggling with a very agile Serbian attack, skillfully directed by Kristina Liszevic.
At the end of 30 minutes, Spain had even scored two goals less, compared to their first match against Sweden. Serbia changed sides, leading 11:8. To make matters worse, Spain’s veteran playmaker, Martha Mangue, had to leave the court with an apparent injury to the knee, minutes before the halftime buzzer.
Katarina Krpez Slezak started the second half with a (handball) firework, scoring four goals in short order, extending Serbia’s advantage 17:9 by the 35th minute. Game over?
Not quite – Serbia maintained their 8-goal advantage until the 40th minute before Carmen Martin – as in the game against Sweden, two days earlier – began to cut the deficit. Meanwhile coach Duena’s 5:1 defense formation paid off, forcing numerous turnovers of Liscevic & Co.
Midway through the second half Spain was trailing by five goals and even two time-outs called by coach, Dragica Duric, failed to stem the tide. Nely Alberto’s powerful shot had cut the score down to three and Spain was chewing away from what once was a very comfortable Serbian lead. A missed penalty of Nerea Pena (57th minute) and two timely scores from right back Marina Dmitrovic, backed by several more artistic saves of Colic, interrupted Spain’s run for good.
Player of the Match
Marija Colic – no question. Her sensational saves secured an unexpected Serbian victory against one of the most experienced teams in women handball. She had stopped 41% of all Spanish shots on goal and prevented 39% of all scoring attempts from short distance. A night to remember for Serbia and Marija Colic.
The two Danish officials, K. Christiansen and L. Hansen Hesseldahl, were part of the game but did not become part of the show. Job well done.
Coach of the Match
Only 12 months ago Sasa Boskovic was running Team Serbia from the sidelines, now such duties have been assumed by Dragica Duric. The former goalkeeper and gold medal winner (with Yugoslavia in 1984) did an excellent job preparing her team for the important encounter with Spain, while goalkeeping colleague Marija Colic made her job somewhat easier on this evening in Stockholm.
There are no easy matches in a European championship – it has been said before and the results of this evening at Hovet arena speak volumes to it. The two nations from the Balkan were the obvious candidates that would battle it out for a last spot in the next round of the competition.
Following Serbia’s win against Spain and Sweden’s astonishing defeat versus Slovenia, an early exit of the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist is right around the corner, while the host of EURO 2016 could possibly enter the main round with zero points.
But there is one more game left to play and Spain as well as Sweden can still safe the day before having to deal with some unintended consequences.
Serbia can be proud of their achievement and enjoy the moment – they are well on their way to record their best result since EURO 2012 on home soil. Who would have thought of it when Andrea Lekic, Dragana Cvijic and Sanja Damnajanovic decided to cut their careers in the national team short?