France win second Junior world title

28 Jul. 2019

France win second Junior world title

France claimed their second IHF Men’s Junior World Championship title with a five-goal win over Croatia in the final on Sunday in Vigo, which represented their second trophy in this competition after 2015. Though Croatia left the court disappointed, it was a historic result, as they celebrated what was their first medal at the Junior World Championship. 

The 1998 France generation end their last youth age category championship together with no less than three trophies, having won the U18 EHF EURO 2016, the 2017 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship and now the 2019 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship. The only blemish on their record is the loss in the final to Slovenia at the U20 EHF EURO 2018, which nevertheless saw them finish at the silver medallists within their continent. 

France vs Croatia 28:23 (15:10) 

The first part of the game was something of a nightmare for Croatia. France took an early lead and Croatia temporarily came back, 2:2, thanks to two goals from Josip Sarac – but it was already clear that their attack was in trouble. Coach Davor Dominikovic called his first time-out after France hit a 5:2 lead, as his usually effective back court struggled to find their way through the defensive system focused on stopping them. 

France had started with 6-0 and moved to 5-1 after the time-out, then soon changed to an even more aggressive 4-2 system concentrated on Sarac and right back and Spain 2019 MVP Ivan Martinovic. As a result, Croatia’s back court really had trouble proving as effective as usual, until the entry of Halil Jaganjac. 

When Jaganjac came on for Sarac in the 15th minute, the back court was injected with new energy and movement, and the gap began to close. At the same time, coach Dominikovic changed his keeper to Ivan Panjan, who had some great saves and provided his team the chance to reduce the deficit. 

At the other end of the court, France’s Valentin Kieffer was having his best game at Spain 2019. At 6:2 in the 10th minute, he had stopped four balls off six attempts against him, at 66%, and he maintained that rate through until the end of the quarter. After no goals for Croatia from the fifth to the 13th minute, they found the net again and steadily came back – from 11:4 in the 18th to 11:9 in the 26th off a fast break from right win Fran Mileta. 

Just when it appeared Croatia had all the momentum, after keeping France scoreless for nine minutes near the end of the half, France managed to find the goal again. They reopened a clearer lead in time for the break, though Panjan saved their last attempt and kept the difference at five. 

When the match resumed France once again created a more decisive edge. In the 43rd minute, the distance stood at 20:14, and it stayed a six-goal game at 22:16 in the 46th. But Croatia did not give in, and it was Jaganjac who brought them within three at 25:22 in the 56th minute. 

However, that was the last time Croatia could hope, as France responded with three consecutive goals that decided the game. When Benjamin Richert scored for 28:22 in the 59th minute, the outcome was decided and France began to celebrate.