Long, nail-biting day
January 25, 2018
After a long day with lots of excitement in Zagreb and in Varazdin, the three teams to follow Denmark to the semifinals of the EHF EURO2018 were determined.
By the time the last whistle blew, the host – Croatia – was out and so were the defending European champions from Germany.
By Peter Bruun
Serbia vs Belarus 27:32 (11:16)
Apart from honor, both teams only had the seeding for the World Cup play-offs in Germany and Denmark, in 2019 at stake.
Belarus, wanted it a bit more than the Serbs, and secured a win, while Serbia went through the main round without a single point.
Sweden vs Norway 25:28 (11:12)
Before the Match
Much more was at stake in the Scandinavian derby, where both teams had a chance to reach the semifinals, but still depended on the outcome of the last match of the evening between Croatia and France.
Before the important match, the two coaches had made changes in their squad.
Sweden’s coach, Kristján Andrésson, had called up left back Vikto Östlund from Danish TTH Holstebro to replace injured right back, Johan Jakobsson, while his Norwegian colleague, Christian Berge, had made a change in goal, replacing Espen Christensen with the young talent, Kristian Sæverås.
Norway did manage to win, but their victory came in two goals short, to keep their semi-final chance alive.
Even Torbjørn Bergerud´s best performance in goal at this European championship was not enough to secure the necessary five-goal advantage for Norway.
To Sweden, the defeat meant spending a couple of anxious hours, until the outcome of the late match between host Croatia and France was known. Only a French win could help the Swedes to advance.
Norway’s goalkeepers were severely criticized during this tournament and justifiably so.
This Wednesday evening, however, at least one of the two Norwegian keepers showed a different side after a rather weak EURO up to this point.
Torbjørn Bergerud stepped up big and showed all his talent, last seen at the World Championship a year ago, which contributed so much to Norway’s silver medal back then.
At Arena Zagreb he recorded a saving percentage of 50, including several one-on-one saves and made sure that Norway had the upper hand in the first 30 minutes.
However, his opponent, Mikael Appelgren, almost matched Bergerud´s level and he was an important factor why Norway didn’t run off with a bigger lead.
After an even start with only one goal separating the two teams, Norway went ahead by two goals for the first time at 7:5 (15th minute), and two minutes later, their advantage was increased to three (9:6).
Thanks to some spectacular saves of Appelgren, Sweden managed to hang in, and never trailed by more than two goals.
At the break, Norway was up by only one goal – not enough to keep their hopes for a semifinal berth alive.
Bergerud continued his brilliant performance, finishing with a saving percentage of 47 after all was set and done.
However, it was not enough for his team to take the much-needed five-goal lead.
Norway were ahead throughout the last 30 minutes of the game, but only by one or two goals. On the other side, Sweden’s offense was not strong enough to pose a real challenge to Norway’s defense and Bergerud, in particular.
Without Johan Jakobsson, Albin Lagergren was the only left-handed backcourt player in Sweden’s squad; the 25-year-old player from Kristianstad used eight attempts for his three goals.
While Norway was unable to enjoy their win to the fullest, Sweden had to wait a couple of hours, before they could celebrate their semifinal ticket thanks to a French win against Croatia.
Croatia vs France 27:30 (13:19)
Before the Match
After the result between Norway and Sweden, France were through to the semifinals, but “Les Bleus” still needed at least a point to win the group.
A consequence of the result between the two Scandinavian countries, Croatia had to come up with a draw in order to not be overtaken by Sweden and losing their semifinal berth.
France appeared to decide the affair for good in the last 17 minutes of the first half, where they completely dominated the team from Croatia. Still, the host managed to stage a comeback in the second half, without catching up completely.
The fact that France were already through to the semifinals certainly did not make a difference.
The beginning of the match became just as tactical and physical as one would have expected, but it did not take France long to get the upper hand.
Once again, Croatia´s goalkeeping problems were put on display.
Only in the match against Norway did one of the Croatian shot-stoppers – Ivan Stevanovic – step up and play well, but in these first 30 minutes against France, neither him nor Mirko Alilovic got their hands on the ball.
And on the other end of the court, the Croatian attack had serious problems with a very physical and well-prepared French defense.
France even survived two periods of being two players short and after turning a 6:7 deficit into a 10:7 lead between the 14th and the 17th minute, “Les Experts” were in complete control of the match for the rest of the first half.
Against all expectations Croatia succeeded in creating an interesting game in the second half.
A more offensive defense formation helped to slow down the French flow of goals considerably. Supported by a very loud and enthusiastic crowd, they slowly worked themselves back into the game.
At 25:26, they had cut the deficit to just one goal with seven and a half minute left on the clock and for a moment it looked like the they could turn the match.
However, the experienced Frenchmen were not that easy to shake – France went up by three goals again (28:25), and when Nikola Karabatic made it 29:26 with two minutes and some seconds left, the game was decided.
France celebrated yet another semi-final berth at a major championship, as the only team that won all six of their matches, so far.
To the host, the disappointment of not playing a major role at the final weekend is enormous and it will be interesting to see, what semifinals and final for this matter, without the home team, will attract the interest of the local spectators.
Slovenia vs Czech Republic 26:26 (11:12)
FYR Macedonia vs Denmark 20:32 (12:12)
Germany vs Spain 27:31 (13:14)
Friday evening, the first semifinal will be a traditional meeting between France and Spain.
The treat for “handball connoisseurs” will be followed by yet another classic – the Scandinavian derby between Denmark and Sweden.
Before the games that will determine medal winners, Croatia will meet the surprise package of the tournament – the Czech Republic in a match for fifth place.