Cyprus seal maiden final berth at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship
29 Apr. 2023
A fast-paced, high-octane second semi-final at Bulgaria 2023 delivered the second finalist, with Cyprus downing India, 42:37, after one of the largest-ever scoring games at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship.
Cyprus earned their first-ever final berth in the competition after finishing third at Bulgaria 2017, and will face Cuba on Sunday in a do-or-die game, which will definitely yield a maiden winner.
- India vs Cyprus 37:42 (23:21)
When Cyprus took an 8:4 lead after only eight minutes, the game looked as good as over. Not because of the four-goal lead, but thanks to their attacking prowess, scoring one goal per minute. Sure, that rate was going to be impossible to replicate, yet India looked like they simply could not use the same run and gun style deployed by Cyprus.
But in only two minutes and 38 seconds, India went on and created a 4:0 run, tying the game and delivering the first question marks for Cyprus. And when the European side’s coach used more and more of the players that did not feature a lot in the group phase, it only enhanced India’s chances.
It was not a half for the goalkeepers, despite the three shot-stoppers that took the court combined for 16 saves, nine for India’s Kumar Atul, and seven for Cyprus’ Christos Orfanos and Georgios Ppoumos. Because it was, in fact, the highest-ever scoring first half in the history of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, with the two sides combining for 44 goals.
And surprisingly, it was India which took the cream of the crop with an outstanding 23:21 lead, built on their fast-paced attacks, excellent fast breaks and shooting efficiency, as wings Sumit and Ankit combined for 11 of those 23 goals, leaving Cyprus reeling.
But would India manage to deliver the same pace in the second half? That was the big question, one which would decide the winner and the second finalist, which was going to face Cuba for the trophy.
The Asian side, the first ever to reach this stage of the competition, had an excellent start to the second half but started to falter due to the lack of depth in their squad. And when Cyprus handed a chance to their starting left back Loucas Paraskeva, the game was as good as over.
The European side used a 7:2 run, which morphed into an 11:4 one, to create a five-goal gap, 35:30, with 15 minutes to go, as centre back Alexandros Charalambous became the top goal scorer of the tournament, leapfrogging Andorra’s Unai Ruiz, with a 28-goal tally.
Charalambous was Cyprus’ lightning rod in this game, scoring 10 times, as the pace delivered by the European side was simply unmatchable by India. The game did not break the record for the number of goals scored in a single match at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship – one set by Great Britain and Albania at Kosovo 2015, 89 goals – but came pretty close, with the sole focus of the match being on attack.
But the game was not over yet. India missed two crucial one-on-one shots, which could have seen the gap cut to one goal, only for Cyprus to deliver the final blows late in the game. Paraskeva, who had nine goals in the second half, and Charalambous proved their experience by delivering some excellent goals and assists, lifting Cyprus to a 42:37 win and leaving India emptyhanded.
Cyprus qualified for the first time for the final of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship where they face Cuba on Sunday, while India aim to secure a medal in the bronze-medal game when they take over Bulgaria.
Player of the Match: Alexandros Charalambous (Cyprus)