PREVIEW: The Beach Handball EURO has reached its final day, with not only the medals but also the qualification to next year's World Championship at stake
Norway face Poland, Russia play Spain in beach finals – Croatia in tears
When the finals throw off at the Beach Handball EURO 2017 on Sunday afternoon, they will be without arguably the hottest gold medal favourites.
Hosts Croatia, the defending champions, four-time consecutive EURO winners and world champions, lost their semi-final 2:1 against Russia, a team they had comfortably beaten 2:0 in Friday's main round.
Coincidentally, Russia were also the last team able to beat Croatia in a knockout match on European level when they beat Croatia 2:1 in the final of the EURO 2007. Ever since Croatia have dominated European Championships almost at will, topping the podium in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
The semi-final became a dramatic affair, almost unbeatable in terms of suspense. Croatia had no problems taking the first set 26:18, but Russia fought back to take the second 23:19.
In the shoot-out, Croatia's Ivan Juric and Russia's Ivan Pasenov hit the crossbar, so it was all square at 6:6 with one attempt left for both teams.
Russia changed the goalkeeper, bringing Evgeny Svestula in, who went far outside his goal, Ivan Dumencic tried to lop the ball above him, it bounced towards the line, Svestula sprinted back and caught it before it crossed.
Igor Neklyudov then finished the job for Russia who reach their first final since 2013 when they lost 2:0 against Croatia.
In the second semi-final, Spain, silver medallists at the Beach Handball EURO 2015, beat Hungary 2:1. The match was a repetition of the 2015 semi-final which Spain had also won 2:1.
In Zagreb, Spain took the first set 24:19, but then lost the second 23:20. Nine players showed no nerves in the shoot-out, until the shot of Mate Gabori, Hungary's fifth player, only hit the post.
All four semi-finalists had already secured their place at the World Championships 2018 in Sochi. Russia as hosts and defending world champions Croatia are automatically qualified.
Spain and Hungary booked two of the three additional places that are available for Europe at the 16-nation event. The final one will be decided between Ukraine and Sweden who play for fifth place at 12:00 hrs tomorrow. The match will be live on youtube.com/ehfTV.
Poland reach their first EURO Final
Earlier in the day, Poland had reached the women's semi-finals with a 2:1 win against the Netherlands, up to that point the only team which had not lost a match at the Beach Handball EURO 2017.
They then continued their winning run, beating Denmark 2:1 in the semi-final to reach their first final in Beach Handball EURO history.
Their opponents will be Norway, silver medallists at the EURO 2015, who beat world champions Spain 2:0.
The women's final will throw off at 16:00 hrs, the men's final at 17:00 hrs. These two matches as well as the bronze medal games, Spain vs Denmark at 14:00 and Croatia vs Hungary at 15:00, will be live on ehfTV.
Just like in the men's event, all women's semi-finalists secured themselves a spot at the World Championship 2018.
For the women's competition, which will also be played with 16 teams for the first time, there are four European places available.
With Russia as hosts and Spain as world champions already qualified, the fourth went to Greece who beat the Netherlands to reach the match for fifth place but will make it to the World Championships regardless of the result as they play against Russia.
Saturday's Fair Play Award, sponsored by the EHF's sports outfitter Salming, was given to Russia's Evgeny Svestula for his overall attitude in all matches in the spirit of fair play.
TEXT: EHF / ts
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