Unbeaten Slovenia and Croatia top Groups C, putting the icing on an overall tally of 13 European teams that reached knock-out stage
European teams continue to dominate World Championship
Although the remaining 16 participants of the Men’s World Championship originate from three continents, the majority of 13 are from Europe, with Montenegro being the only European team to miss the round of the last 16.
On the final match day of the Preliminary Round Groups C and D in Sevilla and Madrid, Slovenia and Croatia took their fifth victory each, the latter one recording a sensational win against hosts Spain.
In total six all-European last 16-matches will be played on Sunday (20 January) and Monday in Barcelona and Zaragoza.
The fixtures for the first phase of the knock-out stage are as follows:
20 January, Barcelona:
Match 6: Germany – FYR Macedonia (15.45 hrs local times)
Match 3: Iceland – France (20.15 hrs local times)
20 January, Zaragoza:
Match 1: Denmark – Tunisia (20.15 hrs local time)
Match 7: Brazil – Russia (17.30 hrs local time)
21 January, Barcelona:
Match 8: Slovenia – Egypt (19.00 hrs local time)
Match 2: Hungary – Poland (21.30 hrs local time)
21 January, Zaragoza:
Match 4: Croatia - Belarus (21.30 hrs local time)
Match 5: Serbia – Spain (19.00 hrs local time)
The quarter-finals will be played at the following dates:
23 January, Barcelona:
18.15 hrs local time and 20.45 hrs local time:
Quarter-final 1: Winners of the matches 1 and 2
Quarter-final 4: Winners of the matches 7 and 8
23 January, Zaragoza:
19.00 hrs local time and 21.30 hrs local time:
Quarter-final 3: Winners of the matches 5 and 6
Quarter-final 2: Winners of the matches 3 and 4
Round-up Group C in Zaragoza:
The fans in Sevilla saw the closest of all decisions concerning the top positions in the Preliminary Round. Slovenia, Serbia and Poland had qualified early for the knock-out stages, but the direct duels of this trio delivered full tension.
First Slovenia beat Poland 25:24, then the Poles defeated Serbia by exactly the same result, and before the final match of this group – Serbia vs. Slovenia – nothing was decided.
And this final duel became a thrilling roller coaster ride: Slovenia were clearly away at the break, then Serbia extended the margin intermediately to three goals, before the EHF EURO 2004 silver medallists turned the match around again to finally finish with a 100 record of five victories from five matches. Thus the Slovenians avoided a last 16 match against the top guns from Croatia, Hungary and Spain.
The young Slovenian team continued on the high level they had already shown during EHF EURO 2012 where they finished sixth.
Led by wing player Dragan Gajic and backed by the saves of the goalkeepers Gorazd Skof and Primoz Prost, the young guns showed modern, attractive handball.
By losing this crucial duel in the very last minutes, Serbia gave away the big chance to finish first and finally ended up on the third position and will have to face hosts Spain in the last 16.
The rejuvenated Serbian squad took benefitted from the saves of goalkeeper Darko Stanic. Top scorer was Momir Ilic, but also the young players left their marks.
Poland finished second mostly thanks to their fighting spirit and their tall back court players. The team of German-born coach Michael Biegler had to cope with several injuries, including the long-term one for defence specialist Mariusz Jurkiewicz.
But they fought until the very end of every match, including a brilliant and finally successful catch-up chase against Serbia.
Belarus had to wait until their last match against Saudi-Arabia to confirm their spot in the knock-out stage. Led by Preliminary Round top scorer Siarhei Rutenka (42 goals in five matches), they had no chances against the top trio, but were better than their non-European opponents, Saudi-Arabia and Korea, which they beat clearly.
Saudi-Arabia could reduce the gap to the European teams a little compared to former tournaments, but were clearly weaker than them. Thanks to their victory against the disappointing Koreans, they will fight for the positions 17 to 20, while the Asian champions had expected much more than to compete for the positions 21 to 24.
Group D in Madrid:
Spain and Croatia were the clearly dominant teams of this group, as both had four victories on their account before their final direct duel.
And Croatia surprisingly were not impressed by the 12,500 spectators in the sold-out Caja Magica and defeated host Spain 27:25 thanks to three consecutive goals in the last three minutes.
"This was a very sweet victory," Croatian player Igor Vori said.
Like at the 2012 Olympic Games, the Croats showed a great team performance in all matches and were highly successful with their counter attacks, but also had enough options to score from the back court area.
Additionally goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic was a real tower of power in all games.
Spain could also count on their fast wing players like Victor Tomas and Albert Rocas and on strong goalkeepers.
Except the match against Croatia, they really overran their opponents, pushed by the spectators. But like in London they could not break the Croats.
Against Australia the Spaniards equalised the record score for world championship matches by a 51:11 victory.
Hungary were without a chance against the two top ranked teams and even had to struggle hard in their final encounter against Algeria to finish on the third position.
But they were hit hard by some injuries – and when their top star Laszlo Nagy was defended closely, they lacked the means to change their tactics.
Behind those three the two African teams from Egypt and Algeria fought for the remaining berth in the last 16.
Following a draw in the direct duel, finally the better goal difference saw Egypt going through. Like in the previous World Championships, Australia was the weakest of all teams. The young “Aussies” were beaten five times.
Photos: Courtesy of IHF photographer Uros Hocevar
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
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