Successful dress rehearsal for EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia.
Hungary wins Four Nations Cup
The fiercely competitive Four Nations Cup had a fitting finale in Vrsac on Sunday, when Croatia finally showed its class and beat Hungary 30:22 while the Czech Republic edged hosts Serbia 24:23 in the day’s opening game.
Despite their defeat to Croatia, the Hungarians finished top with two wins and one loss, thanks to a superior head-to-head record with the Czechs, who clinched second place. Serbia finished third with one win and two defeats, ahead of fourth-placed Croatia who registered the same record but ended up propping the four-team standings after losing their clash with the Serbs in Belgrade’s Pionir Arena on Saturday.
The tournament, designated as a dress rehearsal for the EHF EURO 2012 in January, fully lived up to expectations in terms of quality and organisational level. The Cair Arena in Nis drew a sellout 4,000 crowd for the opening day, a respectable 4,500 turned up in the Pionir Arena while the Millennium Arena in Vrsac was more than half-full for the final day of the tournament on a windy and bitterly cold day in the northern Serbian town.
Having entered the tournament as the least heralded of the four teams, the Hungarians enjoyed upset wins over Serbia and the Czech Republic in their opening two games before Croatia, who had lost their first two games, finally showed their class and looked more like the EHF 2010 runners-up.
Second-choice right wing Zlatko Horvat was preferred to Vedran Zrnic and made the most of his opportunity to finish as the game’s top scorer against the Hungarians with nine goals, four of them from the penalty line.
The Croatians were in control from start to finish and drew cheers from the crowd with several spectacular goals produced by flowing team moves which have been their trademark down the years.
"We had a point to prove after losing the first two games because I felt the team lacked commitment and we put in a much better performance against Hungary," Croatia coach Slavko Goluza told a a news conference.
"Our form improved as the tournament progressed but overall, Hungary was the best team here and we can only congratulate them for winning the Four Nations Cup," Goluza said.
His Hungarian counterpart Lajos Mocsai was delighted after his team lifted the silverware. "We came here a bit short of energy after the Hungarian league derby between Veszprém and Pick Szeged, because the entire national team consists of players from these two clubs. However, winning the opening game against Serbia gave us a huge lift and we are overjoyed to have won the Four Nations Cup, it will give is a major confidence boost ahead of EHF EURO 2012," Mocsai told reporters.
The Serbs, who gave their fans in Belgrade plenty to cheer about with Saturday’s win over Croatia, failed to repeat the good performance against the Czechs but forced a dramatic finish after fighting back from a 19:12 deficit midway through the second half.
Playing in fits and starts throughout the tournament, the host nation drew level at 23:23 in the final minute before a two-minute expulsion gave the Czechs the edge and allowed them to score the winning goal.
"Some individuals have disappointed me with their lack of commitment in the first half and I will have to give it some thought how we should carry on from here," Serbia’s coach Veselin Vukovic said.
"We made too many unacceptable mistakes in the first half, having missed a hatful of sitters while we conceded plenty of easy goals at the other end," he told a news conference.
Czech goalkeeper Tomas Mrkva swung the match with an impressive 21 saves, while the tournament’s top scorer Filip Jicha rifled in five goals to steer his team to success against the hosts.
Apart from Jicha, the other individual awards went to Hungary’s Péter Tatai as the tournament’s best goalkeeper, his countryman Ferenc Ilyés, who was voted the best defensive player and to Croatian playmaker Domagoj Duvnjak, who clinched the Most Valuable Player of the tournament award.
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TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic
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