Last eight team at the 2013 World Championship have been confirmed
European favourites make it to the quarter-finals
14 European teams had booked their berth at the Men’s 2013 World Championship in Spain, 13 qualified for the Round of the last 16 – and now four all-European quarter-finals will be played on Wednesday (23 January) in Barcelona and Zaragoza.
All EHF EURO 2012 semi-finalists are among the last eight teams, except for Sweden also all 2011 World Championship and 2012 Olympic semi-finalists, as all favourites took mostly clear victories in the first stage of the knock-out phase.
Those teams have made it to the next stage: Germany, France, Slovenia, Russia, Denmark, Croatia, Hungary and host Spain.
The top duel of the quarter-finals will be the clash of Croatia (world champion 2003, Olympic champions 1996 and 2004) and France (world champions 1995, 2001, 2009, 2011, Olympic champions 2008 and 2012).
This encounter will be the re-match of the Olympic semi-final, which the Croatians lost against France - like the World Championship final in 2009 and the European Championship final in 2010.
'It’s time for revenge' is therefore very likely to be the motto for Croatia.
After their previous performances EHF EURO champions Denmark are supposed to be the favourites against Hungary, like hosts Spain are against the surprisingly strong German team, while an open duel is expected in the encounter between Slovenia and Russia.
Summary of the Round of the last 16
Germany – FYR Macedonia 28:23 (13:9)
For the first time since 2009, Germany are among the top eight teams at a World Championship and their victory was well-deserved, as the team of coach Martin Heuberger played very variable in attack and in defense and never left any doubt about their will to win.
After being behind 5:11, FYR Macedonia improved, but the Germans still had full control until the score of 17:11.
When the Macedonians were close to turn the match at 16:18, some brilliant saves of goalkeeper Silvio Heinevetter prevented the 2007 world champion from a backlog – and finally they took home a clear victory despite eight goals of Macedonian top scorer Kiril Lazarov.
"I am very proud. We were well prepared, our defense and especially Heinevetter were the keys to success," German coach Martin Heuberger said.
Russia – Brazil 27:26 (14:14)
The upswing of the Russian team continued, but their lucky 27:26 (14:14) victory against Brazil in Zaragoza was much harder earned than expected.
The Pan-American runners-up were level for 60 minutes but could not stop brilliant Sergy Harbok, who scored eleven goals for the Russians. Reaching the last 16 had been the biggest Brazilian success at World Championships already, but they were close to reach even more.
The Brazilian defence perfectly adapted to the Russian play as they managed to avoid the Russian counter-attacks.
Even being behind 23:26 did not break the Brazil resistance. 40 seconds before the end Fernando Pacheco scored the 26:27, and after a Russian time-out the Europeans caused a turnover, which gave Brazil the final chance to equalise – but Vinicius Teixeira missed the goal.
Russian coach Oleg Kuleshov was satisfied with the final result, but not with the way his team played: "We were too nervous and did not use our brains and hands like in the matches before."
Denmark – Tunisia 30:23 (16:11)
Sixth match, sixth victory: EHF EURO 2012 champions Denmark started their knock-out stage campaign by an unexpected clear 30:23 (16:11) victory against Tunisia.
After a slow start that saw them trailing 3:6 the Danes started their engines and Tunisia could not stand the pressure anymore, as the Danes were in lead by 16:11 at the break – and even took an early decision after only five more minutes, when they were away by 20:12.
The gap then became double-figured for the first time at 22:12. For Danish coach Ulrik Wilbek “the rundown of the match was expected. Our counter-attacks and the great defence were the important keys for success.”
France – Iceland 30:28 (15:14)
On their mission to defend their title for the third straight time France had a tough task on their shoulders, but finally took revenge for the defeat at the Olympic Games by beating Iceland in Barcelona.
The encounter was a typical all-or-nothing match. Both teams fought hard and the lead changed constantly in the first half. After a strong French period in the first 20 minutes of the second half, Iceland leveled the match again at 27:27.
At the end, France had more power and the higher individual skills – and benefitted from crucial Icelandic mistakes in the final stages.
French coach Claude Onesta was very happy: "As always against Iceland, it was a tough match. We were in lead quite comfortably, but our opponent returned.
"In the end, the experience was decisive."
On the other hand, for new Icelandic coach Aron Kristjánsson "little things decided. My team has given everything and has gained experience for the future."
Spain – Serbia 31:20 (20:12)
A brilliant performance of the world championship hosts decided the one-sided encounter of the EHF EURO 2012 semi-finalists already at the break.
Thanks to four straight goals Spain forged ahead to 7:3 – and then had not even been shocked, when their defence specialist Viran Morros received a straight red card after a foul against Nemanja Zelenovic.
Quite to the contrary: Even though they were one man down, they scored two goals.
Backed by the brilliant support in the sold-out arena in Zaragoza, the Spanish team was unstoppable, was away by six goals at 14:8 and even eight goals at the half-time.
After the break EHF EURO silver medallists Serbia improved and intermediately reduced the gap to six goals, but never managed to threaten Spain.
"I am very satisfied, it was a great game and an excellent performance. In the second half we thought more about the quarter-final already and I took the opportunity to give playing time to all players. I am especially satisfied with our defence and counter-attacks," Spanish coach Valero Rivera stated.
His Serbian counterpart Veselin Vukovic was highly disappointed: "It was a deserved victory, maybe the distance was too big in the end. 18 to 20 turnovers were the key to our defeat, as they were the reason for the big number of Spanish counter-attack goals. It was impossible to win."
Slovenia – Egypt 31:26 (19:11)
In their fourth Men’s World Championship campaign, 2004 EHF EURO silver medallists Slovenia made it to the top eight teams for the first time.
After a mostly dominant performance they left Egypt empty-handed. After the clear 19:11 half-time result and later on leading 25:16, the Europeans slowed down and allowed the African team to reduce to the gap to 24:26.
But then Egypt's catch-up chase rapidly came to an end and three Slovenian goals in two minutes decided the match.
Slovenian coach Boris Denic was satisfied with the first half, but: "Then we just waited for the end of the match to come. We have to play better, if we want to reach the semifinal."
Croatia – Belarus 33:24 (21:9)
None of all the last 16-matches was decided so early as this one. Croatia gave a free and real tough lesson in international handball to Belarus in the first half in Zaragoza.
After 30 minutes the score was already 21:9, following waves of counter-attack goals of the Olympic bronze medallists. Belarus were close until the 4:6, then the team of Youri Chevtsov fell apart completely including conceding an intermediate 2:11 series.
One key for this sensational half-time result were the saves of Croatian goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic, another their high-speed counter-attacks – even as the Croats had to replace fast-break specialist Manuel Strlek, who suffered a broken hand in the match against Spain.
"It was our goal to get a clear result as early as possible to have the opportunity to rest some players of our first line-up. And we clearly reached this goal," Croatian coach Slavko Goluza said.
On the other hand Belarussian top scorer Siarhei Rutenka praised the winners: "Croatia are a great team and they have all possibilities to win the gold medal in Spain.
"For us this World Championship was a big experience. We made it to the last 16, but today it was impossible to win."
Hungary – Poland 27:19 (10:9)
A strong second half was the key to proceed for the Olympic semi-finalists. After the first 30 minutes had been completely equal, the Hungarians forged ahead to 16:11 after 41 minutes.
Poland were without chances to come close again, and when the Hungarians scored to make it 25:18 the deal was sealed.
"We are very happy to be one of the best eight teams of the world. Before the match we were afraid of the strong Polish team. But my team played it very well. The base of our victory was the defence," Hungarian coach Lajos Mocsai said.
His colleague Michael Biegler (coach Poland) was quite angry with his team: "Without moving you can´t do anything against Hungary. I have never seen my team playing like this before."
The fixtures for the quarter-finals on Wednesday (23 January):
Spain vs. Germany (19.00 hrs. local times)
France vs. Croatia (21.30 hrs local times)
Slovenia vs. Russia (18.15 hrs. local times)
Denmark vs. Hungary (20.45 hrs. local times)
Photos: Courtesy of IHF photographers Uros Hocevar and Stephane Pillaud
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
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