Placement Match 3/4
Croatia 31:27 (13:12) Spain
Beogradska Arena, Belgrade
29 January 2012
Croatia have defeated their curse in place 3/4 placement matches: After having lost the three Bronze finals at the EHF EURO events in 2004 and 2006 and at the Olympic Games 2008, this year they finally made it to the podium in Belgrade. In a tough struggle on a medium level the Balkan team took a 31:27 victory over Spain.
It was the second Bronze medal for the Croatian men after 1994 and the in total fourth EHF EURO medal after winning Silver in both 2008 and 2010. Ivano Balic and his team-mates managed to extend their medal series at EHF EURO events. On the other side Spain seemed too tired and too weak to win their in total fifth EHF EURO medal.
After the final whistle the Croatians danced on the field and jumped for joy on the bench. Top scorers were Balzenko Lackovic and Daniel Sarmiento with seven goals each – both were later also awarded best players of the match.
Both teams caused an enormous number of technical errors in the game, especially before the break, lost balls and missed passes or chances. Both seemed to be tired and uninspired – and also hectic. The Croats had fate in their hand to control the game after a great start.
Thanks to their HSV Hamburg duo Igor Vori and Blazenko Lackovic (eight of 12 Croatian goals in the first half) they had no problems to take on a 10:5 lead, as the Iberians were unlucky in attack.
It took them 23 minutes to score their third field goal. But suddenly the Croats lost their rhythm, did not hit the back of the net for seven minutes until the score was 11:7. Led by right wing Victor Tomas the Spaniards started a catch-up chase up until the half time score of 13:12.
Thanks to Spanish improvement in attack and a decreasing performance of the Croats the game was open again.
When Tomas had to leave the court due to a thigh injury, the Croats were back on track with a four goal margin after 39 minutes. Still Lackovic took the responsibility, scoring in an unstoppable way from the left back position, assisted by Ivan Cupic’s penalty goals.
The general performing level remained low, the number of mistakes was still high on both sides. But by taking the easy fast break profit from some missed Spanish shots, the Croatians increased the gap to six goals at 22:16 – and seemed to be on the winner’s in the middle of the second half.
All of a sudden not the game on court caused the loudest cheers from the stands in Beogradska Arena, but the announcement notice that Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic had won the thrilling six hour five sets final of the Australian Open against Rafael Nadal in Melbourne – the first of three titles Serbia hope to win on Sunday including the European Championship Finals in handball and water polo.
Those emotions from the stands seemed to give the exhausted handball players some intermediate extra power. Life and passion returned to both teams, with their final 12 EHF EURO minutes to go and a Croatian five-goal lead.
But – as usual in this EHF EURO – nothing was decided yet. The Iberians received a great amount of penalty shots, which brought them as close as two goals four minutes before the end. But when Roberto Garcia failed from the seven meter line and Ivan Cupic scored his seventh goal to 29:26, the Croatian Bronze curse was finally broken. In the end Igor Vori decided the Bronze final with the 30:26 which made their bench jump for joy.
Best Player Award - Croatia: Blazenko LACKOVIC
Best Player Award - Spain: Daniel SARMIENTO
Slavko GOLUZA, Croatia coach:
"Congratulations to both sides for a great match. It wasn’t easy for any of the teams to gather themselves after they both lost their semi-final matches.
“For this match God gave us strength and power. For my side it was a great championship, we gave our best, but lacked fortune to reach the final two days ago. Despite this, we have only finished third – I am proud of my players, they are the best boys."
Igor VORI, Croatia pivot:
"It was a fair match where we had great advantage from the beginning. Since we started our preparation for EHF EURO 2012, we have been working hard, but after the loss against Serbia, we lost power.
“Still we could rise for this last game and showed that we are real friends and also in difficult moments we can keep together as a real unit."
Marko KOPLJAR, Croatia right back:
"We have raised ourselves after losing the semi-final and won a medal that I’m very glad about.
“Thanks go to my team-mates I’ve won the best right back nomination for the All Star Team – they helped me to achieve this."
Valero RIVERA, Spain coach:
"Congratulations to Slavko Goluza. Unfortunately, we couldn’t win today, but thanks to sportsmanship we kept our hearts up.
“We played a difficult match one week ago where we were able to defeat Croatia but today the Croats were better, especially in defence.
“We had a close result in the second period, but were unable to turn the match. Today we have played our worst game and it’s a pity for us, as not only have we prepared hard and had great times during the championship, but we couldn’t achieve any better result than fourth place."
Virran MORROS, Spain left back:
"Today Croatia were superior and this match wasn’t a good performance from my side. As a group unit we are feeling good, so now we will have to take the positives out of the tournament and try to reach a better result next time."
Daniel SARMIENTO, Spain centre back:
"We have had serious problems in our attacking game; we lost several balls, but had chances to turn the result, but failed.
“Coach Rivera did a good job in our preparation period and also during the tournament. We will go home with empty hands, even though we had great hopes and wanted to achieve at least a medal."