Croatia prevail over Austria as Olympics a step closer

14 Mar. 2024

Croatia prevail over Austria as Olympics a step closer

It was a battle at the ZAG Arena in Hanover as Croatia and Austria both knew a win in their first game of the Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament 2 would put them in a strong position to make it through to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

In his debut as Croatia’s coach, Dagur Sigurdsson did not have to use captain Domagoj Duvnjak as he oversaw his side come back from an early 1:5 deficit, to win by six.

Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament 2 – Hanover (Germany)
Croatia vs Austria 35:29 (16:16)

Exactly two weeks after his announcement, Dagur Sigurdsson had only six days with his new Croatia team, overseeing five training sessions, just one of which featured the full squad who are here in Lower Saxony.

Sigurdsson has been finding his feet ever since, including when lining up for the Croatia national anthem for the first time here, observing where to stand during the pre-match ‘high-fives’ and general motivation from his team before stepping onto court.

He had little to cheer about early on as Austria sprinted out the blocks, going ahead 5:1 (9th minute), thanks to a Lukas Hutecek breakthrough goal in his 50th international appearance.

An observer up until this point, Sigurdsson’s passion finally saw the light when Luka Cindric on the 11-minute mark put the Croatians within one (4:5). This saw a firm air punch of his hand and when Ivan Martinovic kept the score in touch (5:6) moments later, Sigurdsson’s double punch was perhaps evidence of what the Icelandic coach knew before us all – his side were about to click.

However, as Sigurdsson moved down his bench, becoming more involved in the direct management of his side, Gojun Jakov’s accidental arm to the face of Janko Bozovic (16th minute) saw the Norwegian referees show the Croatian a red after video replay.

It could have been a turn back in favour of Austria, but just three minutes later the score was equal for the first time (9:9). A great steal and fast-break strike from Robert Weber did put Austria two up (13:11) but you sensed that after Sigurdsson’s first team time out as Croatia coach afterwards and a faltering Austrian attack, that the game would start going in favour of his side.

Despite the best efforts of Sebastian Frimmel, Nikola Bilyk, Robert Weber and others Austria could not keep up with Croatia, who went ahead for the first time through Martinovic (18:17, 33rd minute) and extending their lead to three (20:17) moments later.

They never looked back, preventing their opponents from scoring for seven minutes and extending their lead to seven (31:24, 55th minute).

The noisy Austrian and Croatian fans had kept the atmosphere at a high level throughout and those German fans who had stayed on after their victory, highlighted what many knew as they left for the exits before the end – Croatia had done the business.

Duvnjak – who became a father for the third time on Monday – was rested for the entirety of this one, but his role on the bench was important, at times more like an assistant coach, encouraging his side, but also motioning to Dominik Kuzmanovic in the Croatian goal with a finger to either side of his head to indicate concentration when he missed an open goal.

Next up for Croatia and Duvnjak will be Germany on Saturday, while Austria will take on Algeria.

hummel Player of the Match: Ivan Martinovic (Croatia)