24.01.2013, 11:05
Defending champions France leave Spain empty-handed

Denmark vs. Croatia and Spain vs. Slovenia are the fixtures for the semi-finals at the 2013 World Championship

Defending champions France leave Spain empty-handed

After having become world champions in 2009 and 2011, France missed the chance to be the first team in men’s handball history to win a third consecutive title.

On Wednesday evening (23 January) the 2012 Olympic champions lost their quarter-final match 23:30 against EHF EURO 2012 bronze medallists, Croatia. Hosts Spain, EHF EURO champions Denmark and Slovenia also made it to the final weekend in Barcelona.

The fixtures for the semi-finals on Friday, 25 January. are as follows:

19.15 hrs local time: Spain vs. Slovenia

21.30 hrs local time: Denmark – Croatia

Summary of the quarter-finals

Spain – Germany 28:23 (12:14)

Since 2005 all hosts of the Men’s World Championship have at least reached the semi-final - and Spain achieved the same after a real tough quarter-final clash against Germany.

For them it is the fifth participation in a World Championship semi-final as the victory was secured by outstanding line player Julen Aguinagalde, who scored seven goals.

Germany showed a strong performance and was at eye level until the final stages, but then committed too many mistakes in attack.

"Due to the Spanish performance after the break the victory was deserved. Spain now have the chance to go all the way as they have the biggest number of alternatives in their squad," German coach Martin Heuberger said.

Spanish coach Valero Rivera was highly satisfied to reach the semi-final: "Germany made it a really difficult match for us. We could only manage to win after we changed our defence system.

"Thanks to this change and the saves of our goalkeeper Jose Manuel Sierra we managed to win this tremendously difficult match."

After an equal first half the host managed to decide the game in the last 15 minutes when Aguinagalde was 'on fire' – his seventh goal which made it 25:21 for Spain proved to be the decisive one.

Slovenia – Russia 28:27 (14:13)

 It is the first semi-final for Slovenia in the history of Men’s World Championships – and they deserved the quarter-final victory despite the close result.

After Russia had the better start, the saves of goalkeeper Primoz Prost backed the Slovenians to forge ahead to 23:18, but then the Russians restarted their engines to narrow the gap to 24:25 after 50 minutes.

The match remained close until the dying minutes. Only when Slovenia scored to make 28:26 with 15 seconds left on the clock, the deal was sealed.

Slovenian back court shooter Sebastian Skube was full of joy: "In the end we were lucky, but the important thing is that we won. Our dream continues and the semi-final will be the biggest match for us up to now."

Despite the defeat Russian coach Oleg Kuleshov looks optimistic into the future: "My team showed a big match. Although we lost today, we believe in our way back to the top."

Croatia – France 30:23 (13:12)

After a series of defeats in crucial matches, Croatia took revenge against France and eliminated the defending champions from the tournament.

For Croatia this result was the seventh victory in the seventh match in Spain.

In previous tournaments they had been constantly beaten by France - like in the finals of the 2009 World Championship, of EHF EURO 2010, and in the 2012 Olympic semi-final.

In Zaragoza their defence, goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic and the nine goals of brilliant Domagoj Duvnjak became the keys to victory.

The top duel of the quarter-finals had started with a shock for Croatia, as after only 46 seconds Drago Vukovic received a straight red card after a severe foul against Xavier Barachet.

However, backed by the saves of Alilovic and boosted by the goals of Duvnjak they dominated the opening stage until the score being at 10:6, before the defending champions, in their best period of the match, reduced the gap to the half-time score of 12:13 thanks to some great saves of goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer.

The match was open until the 21:20, before the Croats improved in defence, while France lost concentration and efficiency.

At the latest at 27:22 for Croatia with just four minutes to go the match was decided – and the Croatian players finally danced on the field, knowing they had ended their 'French curse'.

"We have beaten the greatest handball team of the last ten years. During half-time I told my team that we cannot disappoint the people in Croatia, for whom the handball national team means so much," Croatian coach Slavko Goluza said.

"A lot of people asked me, why we went the hard way through the knock-out stage. But I could not appreciate even a gold medal, if we had lost against Spain on purpose. We did not want to go the easy way. Thanks god for giving us the strength to play this way."

On the other hand coach Claude Onesta, the mastermind of the French golden generation, did not find his words:  "After a match like this, I am really frustrated. The only thing I can say is congratulations to Croatia."

Denmark – Hungary 28:26 (18:11)

Like in all Men’s World Championships since 2007, EHF EURO champions Denmark have reached the semi-final. After a brilliant first half the team of coach Ulrik Wilbek had to struggle hard after the break to beat Hungary.

"They were two completely different halves. In the first half we played very well in defence with a fantastic goalkeeper Niklas Landin – but then the break was not good for us.

"We need to play better than in the second half, if we want to have a chance against Croatia to reach the final," said Wilbek who had mixed emotions after the victory.

His team started brilliantly until the score of 14:7, but then caused too many mistakes to decide the match early.

Hungary consequently reduced the gap goal by goal – first to 15:19 and 90 seconds before the end they were close to turn the game around at 26:27. But when Henrik Mollgaard scored for Denmark the Hungarian hopes had come to an end.

"At last the margin was too big to turn the match around completely. In the first half Denmark scored nine goals by fast-breaks. In the second half we played handball with a different spirit," Hungarian coach Lajos Mocsai said.

Montenegro finish 22nd in the end

The only European team which had missed the knock-out stage, Montenegro, finished their first ever world championship campaign on rank 22.

"We are not happy, neither with the final match, nor with our performances at our first ever world championship. We really can play better, as we had proved by beating Germany on German soil for example," top scorer Vasko Sevaljevic said after his team had lost the placement match 21/22 against Asian champions Korea 27:30.

Final ranking of the Men’s World Championship in Spain - positions 5 to 24:

5. Germany*

6. France

7. Russia

8. Hungary

9. Poland

10. Serbia

11. Tunisia

12. Iceland

13. Brazil

14. FYR Macedonia

15. Belarus

16. Egypt

17. Algeria

18. Argentina

19. Saudi-Arabia

20. Qatar

21. Korea

22. Montenegro

23. Chile

24. Australia

*The positions 5-16 are classified according to the following criteria:

a) Number of points gained against the teams ranked 1st to 4th in the Preliminary Round in their group;

b) If two or more teams have gained the same number of points the goal difference in the games mentioned under a) is decisive for the classification;

c) If two or more teams have gained the same number of points as well as the same goal dif­ference in the games mentioned under a) a decision on the classification is made based on the greater number of plus goals in these games;

Photos: Courtesy of IHF photographer Stephane Pillaud

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts

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