EHF EURO 2012 Final
Serbia 19:21 (7:9) Denmark
Belgrade, Beogradska Arena
29 January 2012
Denmark won their second European Championship title after breathtaking individual performances by goalkeeper Niklas Landin. The inspirational pack leader Mikkel Hansen gave them a 21:19 win over hosts Serbia in an enthralling EHF EURO 2012 final in the Beogradska Arena on Sunday.
The physical contest produced the tournament’s lowest tally of goals in the first half as Denmark, beaten by Serbia 24:22 in their Preliminary Round Group A match, turned the tables on the host nation and ran out deserved winners in a spectacular atmosphere. It was Denmark’s second title after lifting the trophy in EHF EURO 2008 in Norway.
The home fans who thronged the Belgrade Arena got a perfect appetiser for the eagerly awaited final when the official ceremony speaker announced that Serbia’s world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic retained his Australian Open title with an epic five-set win over Spain’s Rafael Nadal, while the men’s water polo team won the European Championship in Netherlands with a 9:8 win over neighbours Montenegro in the final.
But it was Denmark who made the brighter start in the EHF EURO 2012 final after left back Mikkel Hansen gave them the lead in the third minute and Anders Eggert Jensen doubled the advantage from the left wing, before winger Rajko Prodanovic scored Serbia’s first goal in the sixth minute.
Nikola Manoljovic equalised a minute later but pivot Rene Toft Hansen and Kasper Sondergaard rifled the Danes into their first two-goal lead shortly afterwards.
Several good saves by Darko Stanic, voted the best goalkeeper of the tournament, kept the home team afloat in the opening 10 minutes, as they clearly lacked the spark and electrifying pace in attack after an emotional and strength-sapping win over Croatia in the semi-finals.
Denmark led 5:3 midway through the first half, and as one of their defenders picked up a two-minute suspension pivot Bojan Beljanski halved the deficit but Serbia continued to struggle in attack.
Danish goalkeeper Niklas Landin pulled off seven saves by the 20th minute but the Serbians did well in picking up the rebounds as Prodanovic converted one from the right flank to reduce the arrears to 6:5.
Eggert Jensen, however, proved a handful for Serbia’s defence in the first half and scored from a fast break barely a minute later before Mikkel Hansen unleashed a scorcher into Stanic’s bottom left corner to hand the Danes their first three-goal lead of the game.
Centre back Nenad Vuckovic, who broke back into the side for the final weekend after recovering from an ankle injury, gave Serbia the lifeline with his second goal of the game before captain Momir Ilic finally got off the mark with a penalty shot.
Subdued for most of the first half, the home fans were finally on song after Stanic pulled of another string of superb saves, forcing Denmark coach Ulrik Wilbek to call a timeout. The Danes responded through Bo Spellerberg, who pierced through Serbia’s defence after Nikola Manojlovic was suspended for two minutes to give the visitors a well-deserved 9:7 lead at halftime.
Denmark’s left back Nikolaj Markussen opened the scoring in the second half with a ferocious shot that went in off the post and Serbia were in trouble after having Manoljovic suspended for two minutes. Once again, Stanic came to their rescue with several impressive stops but was powerless when Markussen made it 11:7 shortly afterwards.
Winger Ivan Nikcevic and the effervescent Vuckovic gave the home team a glimmer of hope with two goals in quick succession and the passionate home fans raised the roof off the Arena after Denmark had a player suspended, only for Landin to save Ilic’s penalty shot.
However, pivot Alem Toskic shook off his marker on the six-metre line and cut the deficit to 11:10 before Rasmus Lauge struck at the other end.
Landin matched Stanic tit for tat between the posts and Mikkel Hansen again struck from 10 metres when his team needed him the most, giving Denmark a three-goal lead in the 40th minute. A flurry of goals at either end, including a spectacular effort by Mikkel Hansen, left Denmark 15:12 ahead midway through the second half, with Serbia failing to contain the powerful left back.
The writing was on the wall for the home team, running on fumes after their impressive march to the final, after Hans Lindberg made it 16:12 in the 47th minute, silencing most of the vociferous home fans.
But the Serbians refused to lie down and responded with a quickfire treble, with Prodanovic and pivot Rastko Stojkovic netting before right back Marko Vujin converted a penalty shot. The unstoppable Mikkel Hansen replied with yet another thunderbolt before Stojkovic bundled in another goal from the six-metre line to set up a dramatic finish.
Manojlovic earned his third and final suspension in the 52nd minute with Denmark leading 17:16, allowing Hansen to rifle in his sixth goal of the game as the Scandinavians restored a two-goal lead. Vujin then rekindled Serbian hopes with a piledriver, only for Hansen to strike again and pile the pressure on the Serbians.
Nikcevic responded to cut the deficit to 19:18 with five minutes left on the clock but Lauge buried a rebound from his own shot at the other end, leaving the Serbians with a mountain to climb in the last few minutes.
The home team could not stage a last-gasp comeback after Ilic misfired high over the bar and their fate was sealed after Hansen fired in his ninth goal of the match on a fast break.
Serbia finished the game with their heads up after another brave performance, which was still not enough against a classy Danish side that sealed a berth in the 2012 Olympics by winning EHF EURO 2012.
Serbia and fifth-placed Macedonia have clinched berths in Olympic qualifying tournaments to be held in April, while for Denmark the celebrations of the EHF EURO 2012 title have just begun…
Best Player Award - Serbia: Darko STANIC
Best Player Award - Denmark: Niklas LANDIN JACOBSEN
Ulrik WILBEK, Danish coach:
"This EHF EURO was an absolute roller coaster for the Danish team. In this very tactical final the Serbians were tired and I think our defence and Mikkel Hansen were the decisive figures. But I congratulate the Serbian team, too, for a fantastic tournament, they can be proud of this result.
“This tournament was a rollercoaster for Denmark after we lost two out of our opening three games. We started the tournament with a defeat to Serbia and I said then that I hoped we would meet again.
“We did, and the final was decided by Mikkel Hansen, he was absolutely fantastic. It was a tough tactical battle with strong defences.
“I have to congratulate Serbia for a fantastic tournament, they will be very proud of their achievement when the initial disappointment of this loss is over.”
Hans LINDBERG, Denmark right wing:
“We were a bit lucky today and it was our strong defence that decided the game. Naturally, we are absolutely overjoyed to have won the tournament.”
Rasmus LAUGE SCHMIDT, Denmark centre back:
“Our defence was incredible today and it was by far the best performance we delivered in the tournament. It was great to come back after a patchy start and win five games in a row to clinch the gold medal.”
Veselin VUKOVIC, Serbian coach:
"Denmark played a excellent final. After the tough semi-final against Croatia we were physically and mentally empty. But in the end we played a great tournament.
“I have to congratulate Denmark for an excellent game in the final. Beating Denmark twice in the same tournament was always going to be a tall order for us, especially because we were physically empty after beating Croatia in the semi-finals.
“We faced the best team in the world and the best player in the world today. We had some excellent games and we can be proud of our results, which should mark a new era for Serbian handball.”
Marko VUJIN, Serbia right back:
“We gave all we had but we were behind throughout the contest because we were emotionally drained after the semi-final win over Croatia and the fans seemed to have little left in the tank too in the first half.
“We were below par today but full credit to Denmark; they were the best team and won it deservedly. Mikkel Hansen was unstoppable and he personified a Denmark that improved as the tournament progressed.
“I think we have a very bright future as a team - we achieved a lot in the last two weeks by winning the EHF EURO 2012 silver medal and qualifying for next year’s World Championship.”
Nikola MANOJLOVIC, Serbia centre back:
“We are delighted to have won the silver medal, but we burned out today in our desire to make it a perfect treble of trophies for Serbian sport today.
“We were in touch with Denmark throughout the game and we needed just a little bit of luck but it wasn’t meant to be. No one expected us to get this far, hence we timed our form in the pre-tournament build-up to play our best handball early in the competition. I hope this is the beginning of a fairytale for Serbian handball.”
Darko STANIC, Serbia goalkeeper:
“We didn’t play well in attack today but we have achieved is tremendous, although we are a bit sad not to have emulated the accomplishments of Novak Djokovic and the men’s water polo team.
“I am honoured to have received standing ovations from the fans, it will stay in my memory for the rest of my life and it is unlikely we will repeat such a run of impressive performances in a major event on home soil.
“I hope a better infrastructure will result from this success because children, who are the future of every team sport, deserve better facilities to follow in our footsteps.”
Momir ILIC, Serbia left back:
“I want to thank the fans for their incredible support and also to congratulate the Danes for winning the gold medal. A runners-up finish is a great result for us and I am proud to be the captain of this team.
“We have written a new page in the history of Serbian handball. Denmark fully deserved their win and obviously they were the best team in the tournament."