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26.01.2012, 14:43
Semi-finals completed after tough and close fights
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Summary of the Main Round: Highest tension until the final matches.
 

Semi-finals completed after tough and close fights

Spain versus Denmark and Serbia versus Croatia are the semi-finals of the Men’s EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia on Friday.

As Spain and Croatia had been among the favourites from the start of the tournament on, Denmark was nearly out after a weak Preliminary Round. But thanks to three straight Main Round victories the Danes surprisingly reached the semi-final. There they face Spain in the same constellation as at the 2011 World Championship in Sweden. Serbia – supported by their fans – were one of the “secret favourites” and remained in this role.

“This is a miracle,” Danish coach Ulrik Wilbek said after his team had beaten FYR Macedonia, Germany and Sweden in the Main Round. The Danes showed a strong will after having reached the second stage with zero points.

Hosts Serbia played supremely in Preliminary and Main Round. After reaching the second stage with the optimum of four points a draw against Germany and a well-deserved victory over Sweden meant the early qualification for the semi.

So the defeat in their last Main Round match against FYR Macedonia did not hurt the Serbs – but made their opponents jump for joy: With their second victory after beating Poland, the Macedonians – led by brilliant top scorer Kiril Lazarov –reached third place in Group 1 and remain in the race for the Olympic Qualification.

On Friday the Macedonians will face Slovenia in an Ex-Yugoslav duel for the fifth and sixth place – the winner books a ticket for the Olympic Qualification Tournaments, played on 6-8 April.

The loser still can hope for one ticket, but for this Serbia need to become European Champion on Sunday, which would mean a direct qualification for the Olympics for them.

The Danish luck was the German fate: After luckily reaching the Main Round with four points and taking an even luckier draw with Serbia in their first match in Belgrade, the German luck had come to an end.

Germany was defeated twice and missed two match points against Denmark and Poland, missed the semi-final and their chance to snatch a ticket for the Olympic Qualification. So the 2012 London Olympics will be the first without a German men’s team’s participation since 1936.

In the end group winners Serbia (seven points) were only ahead with two points of the fifth ranked Polish team, which was equal with FYR Macedonia and Germany, all one point below the Danes and three points ahead of the disappointed Swedes.

But even ranking ninth in the end, the Poles still can hope for the Olympic Qualification tournaments: if Spain, Denmark or Croatia become European Champions (and thus qualify directly for London) their eighth rank at the 2011 World Championship would bring them to the tournaments.

The final decision of the German failure was done in Novi Sad, when Hungary and Croatia tied in the end – after dramatic final seconds. While scoring the last and game-winning  goal, the Hungarian coach Lajos Mocsai happened to take his time-out – and the Hungarians missed their chance.

This draw meant that Slovenia ranked third in Group 2I. Hungary only took one point in the Main Round – the draw against the Croats and ranked fourth.

The dominant team of Group 2 – and the only still unbeaten team at the EHF EURO 2012 – was Spain. Thanks to their extra-ordinary defence and their huge rotation possibilities the Iberians won all their three games in Novi Sad, including the decisive clash with Croatia after a highly intense duel.

Both had qualified for the semis already after the second match day and the clear 29:22 Croatian victory over defending champions France.

The French team was the biggest disappointment in Serbia, ranking eleventh in the end with only one victory against the Slovenians and a draw in the meaningless encounter with Iceland. For the first time since the Olympics 2004 a semi-final of a major tournament (Olympics, World and European Championships) will take place without French participation.

In a first analysis of the EHF expert group the significant result is the decreasing number of goals: The average score of the matches was 29,5:25,5 – so for the first time since years less than 30 goals were scored by the winning teams.

Aside the matches in Main Round Group 1 in Belgrade were decided in first half, as second halves were mostly equal, whilst in Novi Sad the second half decided the games.

The decisive factor for success was the defence – and especially the number of 1-against-1 situations of shooters with goalkeepers. Spain and Serbia had the lowest number of those duels – and won their groups.

Almost all teams had problems in one-man-advantage-situations, as most of them were even better with one player less on the field.

Those teams qualified for the semis had the lowest numbers of goals conceded by counter attacks, so they were strong in avoiding turnovers.


TEXT: Björn Pazen
 
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