25.01.2017, 09:28
The race for medals at France 2017 has turned all-European

REVIEW: Hosts France will face Slovenia in the first semi-final of the Men's World Championship, while Croatia and Norway battle it out in the second match – just like they did at the EHF EURO 2016

The race for medals at France 2017 has turned all-European

The four quarter-finals at the Men's World Championship 2017 were like ice and fire. While two were won arguably easy, two turned into true thrillers.

But they had one thing in common: In the end all four winners came from Europe.

While France, who beat Sweden 33:30, and Croatia, who won 30:29 against Spain, had to fight until the last second of their games, the wins of Norway, 31:28 against Hungary, and Slovenia, 32:30 against Qatar, look much closer on paper than the matches actually were.

In the semi-finals in Paris, France face Slovenia on Thursday (21:00 hrs local time) and Croatia play against Norway on Friday (20:45 hrs local time).

France can become the first nation to win a sixth World Championship, while Slovenia are part of a World Championship Semi-final for the second time only. Norway, who qualified for the World Championship only courtesy of an IHF wildcard, are even debutants on this level.

However, they did reach the semi-final of the EHF EURO 2016 one year ago; a game they lost to Germany. They also lost the bronze medal match against Croatia – therefore the time for revenge has come.

Sweden test and try France

In their quarter-final against Sweden, tournament hosts France had huge problems to find their rhythm despite being spurred on by 28,000 fans in the Lille football stadium.

Sweden, who had introduced several young players to the team ahead of the tournament, led for three quarters of the match, but eventually France turned the game – also courtesy of a ruthless performance of Kentin Mahe who scored nine goals, including seven from seven penalties.

“We had a problem with Sweden's fast game. In the second half we didn't have that many turnovers anymore. It was very, very difficult and I want to congratulate my players. They fought a lot,” said France coach Didier Dinart.

Tuesday's first quarter-final, Norway vs Hungary, was eventually a less thrilling affair.

After 15 minutes of play, Norway already led 11:4 and Hungary never came close again.

Even eleven goals of Gabor Csaszar did not prevent the team of Xavier Sabate from elimination. On the other hand, Sander Sagosen, Espen Lie Hansen and goalkeeper Torbjörn Bergerud were the key players for Norway.

“It was a great match. We had a game plan and we followed it 100 per cent. We have a lot of confidence. We believe we can beat every team and we are a team that is really, really hungry now for the first medal in history,” said Sagosen.

Slovenia cannot wait to face France

Slovenia had no major problems either to beat Qatar, the team that had sprung the major surprise of the Last 16 when they eliminate d EHF EURO champions Germany.

When Slovenia led 29:20 with 15 minutes left, the deal was sealed. A late Qatar comeback was of no avail.

Compared to Qatar's Last 16 encounter, when he was one of the key players, goalkeeper Danijel Saric had a day to forget and did not save any of the first 15 shots on his goal. Slovenia's top scorer was Gasper Marguc with six goals.

“It’s a great feeling, I can’t believe that we are in the semi-final. I’m really happy and I can’t wait for the next match against France,” said Slovenia's Darko Cingesar.

And as Spain lost against Croatia, all three Spanish coaches left in the tournament (Jordi Ribera with Spain, Valero Rivera with Qatar, Sabate with Hungary) were sent home on Tuesday.

“I can feel with Jordi. It is so tragic to get eliminated in a knockout match,” said Croatian coach Zeljko Babic.

His side took revenge for defeats against Spain in the EHF EURO 2016 Semi-final as well as in the EHF EURO 2014 Bronze Medal Match.

Croatia had already led by five goals (23:18) early in the second half, but in the 54th minute Spain had levelled the match at 28:28.

However, they could not take the lead and only found the back of the net one more time, while Croatia scored twice in the final minutes.

Photos: France Handball 2017

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts

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