VIDEO REPORT: The semi-finals at the 2013 European Beach Handball Championships went down to the wire with the matches between Denmark and Croatia as well as Serbia and Russia being decided in the shoot-out
Defending champions Croatia oust Denmark to go for third consecutive title
The men's semi-finals at the 2013 European Beach Handball Championships could not have held any more tension and suspense.
The match between Russia and Serbia as well as the encounter Denmark versus Croatia went into shoot-out, with the last attempt finally deciding the match on both occasions.
Denmark took the first set 24:21 and had the defending champions on the edge of defeat, but Croatia fought back, supported by the psychogolical advantage of knowing what it is like to reach a European Beach Handball Championship Final as they topped the podium in 2009 and 2011.
With Ivan Juric in strong from scoring 12 points overall and the power of Zvonimir Djikic (16 points), they came back in the second set, overpowering the hosts and taking the set 26:13.
However, over the course of the tournament Denmark established a reputation as 'shoot-out kings', as they had won five out of six shoot-outs they entered before.
And it once more started well for them: Croatia's Hrvoje Biuklic missed the first attempt, while Mick Schubert scored on the other side.
Croatia got in front, when neither Simon Elsborg nor Matthias Suhr converted their attempts, but everything was open once again, when Croatia's Ivan Dumencic only hit the cross bar with Croatia's fifth shot.
Danish top star Hans Lindberg could have levelled the match, but the 31-year-old missed the goal and send the Croatian players dancing and celebrating on the court.
Battle of the champions in the men's final
In the second semi-final surprise package Serbia, who had beaten 2012 Beach Handball World Championships silver medallists Ukraine in the quarter-final, once again came out strongly and took the first set 19:16 against Russia.
But the experienced Russians, European champions in 2004 and 2007, had no problems in the second, winning 28:19.
Ivan Fiev in particular was on fire, scoring 22 points overall, while Marko Pavlovic was Serbia's best shooter with 16 points.
In the shoot-out Serbia first had the upper hand converting their first three attempts, while Roman Kalashnikov for Russia did not find the back of the net with the second attempt for his team.
But with the final being close, Serbians Branko Oljaca and Marko Pavlovic showed some nerves in the fourth and the fifth attempt.
And while they did not score, one point scored by Anton Dache in Russia's last attempt was enough to seal the deal.
Russia now will meet Croatia in the final at 18:00 hrs on Sunday in a match that will see the European Champions from four of the last five tournaments (Spain won in 2006) battling it out for the European crown.
This time has changed from the original match schedule. The women's final will now take place at 19:00 hrs following the men's final.
Serbia and Denmark will play for bronze at 17:00 hrs on Sunday.
Shoot-outs decide the quarter-finals
Three of the four quarter-finals earlier on Saturday were decided in shoot-outs. Serbia (against Ukraine), Denmark (against Spain) and Russia (against Hungary) all needed a 'third set' to make it to the semi-finals.
Only Croatia beat Norway in two straight sets.
There was much at stake as a spot in the semi-finals also automatically guaranteed the qualification for next year's World Championships.
Cross matches for fifth to eighth place were also played and as Ukraine beat Hungary and Spain beat Norway, Ukraine and Hungary will play for fifth rank on Sunday, while Hungary and Norway will fight for seventh place.
Both placement matches take place at 15:00 hrs.
The results overview and match schedule for the men's event can be viewed here.
TEXT: EHF / ts
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