25.01.2013, 10:10
Huge respect and high hopes

eurohandball.com looks ahead at the two all-European 2013 World Championship semi-finals, Spain vs. Slovenia and Denmark vs. Croatia

Huge respect and high hopes

It is crunch time in Spain: On Friday (25 January) the two semi-finals of the 2013 Men’s World Championship will be played in Barcelona – and the expectations of the four participating teams are quite different, although all of them hope to reach the final on Sunday.

Three group winners of the Preliminary Round and one runners-up have made it to the top four - including Slovenia, the biggest surprise at this tournament.

"If someone would have told me before this tournament, that my team will go to the semi-finals I would have sweetly laughed," Slovenian coach Boris Denic said in a press conference on Friday.

His team will play their first semi-final at a World Championship and will face hosts Spain in the first semi-final (throw-off 19.15 hrs local time).

In the second semi-final (21.30 hrs) EHF EURO 2012 champions Denmark play against Croatia in the duel of two teams with a 100 percent clear record after seven matches.

Slovenia are supposed to be the underdog in this quartet, but coach Denic can count on a well-rehearsed team, which has proved its strength with seven victories in seven matches like Denmark and Croatia.

Spain only lost encounter – in the Preliminary Round against Croatia.

Denmark and Slovenia could become world champions for the first time, while Croatia (2003) and Spain (2005) have one title each on their account.

"We know what to expect when one faces the hosts in such a crucial match. But nevertheless it will be a great experience," Slovenian coach Boris Denic said.

And the Slovenians hope for the medical miracle that their top scorer Dragan Gajic (playing for French VELUX EHF Champions League team Montpellier) could recover from a finger injury, sustained in the last 16-match against Egypt.

On the other hand Spain are looking forward to their first match in the sold-out Palau Sant Jordi, the 1992 Olympic handball venue. 

"We will have a wonderful atmosphere in a full house. It will be a great event – for us, for the media and for the people," coach Valero Rivera said.

Playing in the Palau is something very special for him: "I am very proud to go to the semi-final in my hometown, where I lived all my life," the highly successful former coach of FC Barcelona mentions.

But Rivera is also aware of the opponent's strengths: "It will be a big pressure for me and my team, but it is exactly the pressure that we desired. It will be a very difficult match, as I have a lot of respect for the Slovenian team, and all of us will take the match very seriously."

Croatia impressed by brilliant performances

The best world championship position for the Spanish opponent so far was rank ten in 2007; following that Slovenia even missed the qualification for the final tournaments in 2009 and 2011.

Though Spain participate for the 15th time at a World Championship, it is only their fifth semi-final after 1999, 2003 (when they ranked fourth on both occasions), 2005 (gold medal) and 2011 (bronze).

Like Denmark they had already semi-finalists at the previous World Championship in Sweden, where the Danes finally ranked second and won their second silver medal after 1967 in a thrilling final against France.

But after two easier tasks in the first knock-out stages against Tunisia and Hungary, now Denmark face the Croats, which have impressed all opponents by their brilliant performances.

"Croatia beat Spain in the Preliminary Round on their home ground and they also beat the defending champions France in the quarter-final. But we will see, whether we will find a way to beat them tomorrow," Danish coach Ulrik Wilbek said.

And Wilbek will enter the second men’s world championship semi-final of his career after winning various titles with the Danish women in the 1990s with high accolades.

On Thursday (24 January) he was awarded 'World Handball Coach of the Year for Male Teams' by IHF President Hassan Moustafa, while Norwegian national team coach Thorir Hergeirsson received the award in the female team category.

Wilbek praised the work of his Croatian counterpart Slavko Goluza before their duel: "Croatia is in a very interesting development. It is always nice to see, when colleagues make a team better – and even make it a team."

In their last encounter at the London Olympic Games, Croatia were the clear winner against the Danes.

And Goluza arrived in Barcelona with huge confidence after his team had beaten France in the quarter-finals.

"We came to this tournament with a strong believe in ourselves and we know that we can achieve everything. We have a young team, because we have built this team without two or three experienced players. But the best player I know is always the team,” Goluza explained the fact, why he had not nominated Ivano Balic.

However, neither Wilbek nor Goluza want to carry the burden to be the favourites.

"Everything, what means handball – goalkeeper, defence, counter attacks, position attacks – will decide this game," Wilbek answered the question, what will be the key for success.

The losers of the semi-finals play for the bronze medal on Saturday (19:00 hrs local time), the winners in the final on Sunday (17.15 hrs local time).

Photos: Courtesy of IHF photographer Stephane Pillaud

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts

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