15 Jun. 2019
Cuba joined Georgia in the final of the 3rd IHF Emerging Nations Championship after an exciting extra-time semi-final, which saw Bulgaria come back from a six-goal half-time deficit for a thrilling end to the match. No matter the outcome in the final, it is already an impressive result for Cuba, who are debutants at the Emerging Nations Championship.
Bulgaria will play for the bronze medal against Great Britain, who were defeated by Georgia in the first semi-final on Saturday evening.
Cuba vs Bulgaria 39:36 (32:32)(20:14)
Cuba entered the match with a perfect record but, despite their dominant performance in preliminary round Group A, there was a sense that the record Pan American champions had yet to use their full power. It became clear that was the case when the match began, as they played with speed they had not previously on court in Tbilisi Sport Palace.
Cuba did significant damage in the opening minutes, as they raced ahead to a 7:2 advantage by the eighth and prompted Bulgaria’s first time-out. The five-goal score line came after three fast breaks within two minutes, which left Bulgaria shocked. Following the time-out the pace slowed and Bulgaria came more into the game, though Cuba still stayed well and truly in front.
Initially Bulgaria’s defence had little answer for Cuba’s powerful attack, and the only thing keeping them safe was goalkeeper Ivaylo Kostov. With five saves in the opening 13 minutes, 10:5, the Bulgarian keeper clearly won the contest against Cuba keeper Magnol Suarez Fiss early on – but Suarez was only warming up and became the key factor later in the game.
From 9:2 in the 10th minute to 13:11 in the 20th, the European team fought their way back to a more level contest before Cuba reopened a clearer advantage ahead of the break. A penalty save from Suarez kept the score at 20:14 right on half-time.
15 minutes into the second period it seemed Cuba’s cushion created in the opening minutes might be enough to keep Bulgaria at bay, though the European side kept pushing. But a change in Bulgaria’s defensive system, from 5-1 to 3-2-1, caused significant trouble for the Pan American team’s attack. Two suspensions for Cuba in the 52nd then 53rd minute allowed Bulgaria to close the gap, and they equalised at 29:29 with six minutes on the clock.
A huge double save from Kostov in the 57th, 31:31, kept Cuba from taking the lead. In a furious last minute of regular time, Suarez saved two shots, including a fast break which could have won Bulgaria the match in the last second, keeping the game level and sending it into extra time.
Cuba looked to be in trouble when they received a suspension in the first five minutes of extra time, but they managed to take a one-goal lead 34:33. With just over two minutes left in the second five minutes, Cuba had firmly reclaimed the upper hand to lead 38:35. Suarez played a huge role in the extra-time period, saving five crucial shots to take his overall record to 18. Kostov tallied a total of 22 in what was an outstanding contest between the keepers.
Bulgaria’s Svetlin Dimitrov was the top scorer of the match with an impressive 15 goals.
Players of the match:
Cuba: Magnol Suarez Fiss
Bulgaria: Svetlin Dimitrov