28 Apr. 2023
Three teams – Bulgaria, Cyprus and India – aim for their first final berth at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship. The semi-finals are scheduled for Saturday in the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria.
The hosts will face Cuba, the runners-up from the last edition in 2019, while the first Asian side to qualify for the quarter-finals, India, look to deliver a heavy blow to Cyprus, the favourites of the second semi-final.
All the 12 participating teams will take the court on Saturday, as the Placement Matches 5-8 and 9-12 will also see some interesting clashes, with the final standings of the 2023 IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship starting to shape up.
- 18:15 EEST Cuba vs Bulgaria
Backed by some excellent games from goalkeeper Magnol Suarez Fis, who is the top shot-stopper with a 51.4% saving efficiency, and left wing Hanser Rodriguez, who scored 14 goals, Cuba are back into the semi-finals of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship for the second time in two editions.
However, they will face a strong challenge from hosts Bulgaria, which aim to challenge for the trophy and fight for their first-ever final berth in the competition, backed by their home fans, who will be looking to cheer for their team, coming in hot to this game, winning two games out of two in the group phase.
Bulgaria have impressed in the group phase, conceding 37 goals, the lowest number in the competition so far, an average of 18.5 goals per game, after some strong defence, headlined by the performances of their two goalkeepers, Nikolay Petrov and Stefan Dimitrov.
But Cuba, who have the joint-best attack in the competition with 59 goals, will be the toughest challenge yet for the hosts, who have lost the only semi-final played so far at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship (36:39) after extra time, against the same opponent, Cuba, four years ago, at Georgia 2019.
Bulgaria’s top scorer, Svetlin Dimitrov, needs only four goals to become the first-ever player in the history of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship to hit 200 goals after scoring 12 in his first two matches, playing both as a right back and as a right wing, his preferred position.
- 20:30 EEST India vs Cyprus
India became the first Asian team to seal a place in the semi-finals of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, delivering two good games against Malta (33:31) and Andorra (26:23), on their way to fight for the trophy, as the top attack in the competition so far, with 59 goals scored in the group phase at Bulgaria 2023.
The attack was not the only strong point for India so far in the competition, as goalkeeper Kumar Atul registered the highest number of saves in the first two matches, 37, for an excellent 40.9% saving efficiency, the fourth-largest and the second-best in a ranking where only goalkeepers with at least 10 saves are considered.
Two India players, Ankit (16 goals) and Mohit (13 goals), are also among the top 10 scorers of the competition. Yet, the semi-final will be a totally different proposition, as Cyprus are the most experienced side they faced so far at Bulgaria 2023.
The European side, who is also looking for its first final berth at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship after losing one semi-final in 2017, will miss influential right back, team captain Demetris Nikiforou, who was injured in their win against the Republic of Moldova (35:31), but will welcome back into the fold Loucas Paraskeva, who shrugged off an injury and took the court in the second half against Australia, scoring three goals.
Cyprus also have the third-best scorer of the competition in their roster, Alexandros Charalambous, who has scored 18 goals so far, and have the joint-best attack as them, Cuba and India have all scored 59 goals.
Placement Matches 5-8
- 13:45 EEST Andorra vs Australia
Andorra can celebrate their best finish at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship after ending up on the 14th place and the 15th place in 2015 and 2017 in 16-team fields, with their performance at Bulgaria 2023, where they won against Malta and lost against India, providing a platform for the future.
Unai Ruiz has been nothing short of excellent for the European side so far, scoring in double digits in both games to lead the top goal scorer standings with 21 goals before the game against Australia. However, Australia’s defence has conceded only 46 goals, the fourth-lowest number so far in the competition. Therefore, Andorra’s challenge will be bigger now.
With only 10 players in the tournament, the European side will likely be an underdog against Australia, who led by as many as five goals in the first half against Cyprus, only to falter in the second half. They have also sealed their best finish in the competition, but with a look for the future, a top 5 finish at Bulgaria 2023 is only fitting for a team which is trying to improve heavily over the next decade.
- 16:00 EEST Great Britain vs Nigeria
Right back Faruk Yusuf has been a breath of fresh air for Nigeria, being the player who scored the largest number of goals in a single match at Bulgaria 2023 on Thursday, when he put 13 past Azerbaijan in his team’s win, 35:17, the biggest so far in the competition.
Yusuf is the second-best scorer in the competition with 19 goals, two shy of Andorra’s Ruiz, and will likely be the fulcrum of Nigeria’s challenge of trying to secure their best-ever finish at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship. But Nigeria will have to win at least the game to better the seventh place sealed at Georgia 2019.
Great Britain have shrugged off the loss against Cuba, 28:32, and bounced back with a clear win over Guatemala (28:17), but the team has been turnover-prone, conceding 32 turnovers in the first two matches. They will definitely need to clean up their act, as Nigeria have been flawless on fast breaks, scoring 16 goals against Azerbaijan and two against Bulgaria on fast attacks, nearly a third of their total so far at Bulgaria 2023.
Placement Matches 9-12
- 09:15 EEST Malta vs Republic of Moldova
So far, Malta have avoided big losses, but they still have failed to win, creating the largest-ever losing streak in the history of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, conceding a loss in their last 10 matches in a row.
Now, after dropping games against Andorra and India by only two goals, they will finally stop the rut and avoid finishing 12th, which they also did in the previous edition of the competition, provided they win against the Republic of Moldova.
It will be a battle between two different styles, as Malta rely more on speed, while Moldova have a strong and physical team. It will also be a face-off between two of the best scorers in the competition, as Malta’s Neil Gruppetta scored 18 goals, the third-best number so far, while Moldova’s Vasili Vasilatii is sixth in the top goal scorer standings with 15 goals.
- 11:30 EEST Guatemala vs Azerbaijan
The two attacks which scored the lowest number of goals – Guatemala (34) and Azerbaijan (36) – will be aiming to improve their numbers and earn their first win at Bulgaria 2023, when they face off and try to avoid finishing on the last place of the competition.
Both sides are the only ones who have lost both matches played in the group phase in double digits and will try to save face here, as Guatemala, the only rookies making their debut at Bulgaria 2023, aim to finish the competition on a high.
The defence has been the main factor for Guatemala, whose lack of speed and creativity in attack relegated them on the last place of the shooting efficiency chart with 42.5%, as they conceded only 55 goals so far, with Azerbaijan being the most porous defence so far, conceding 65 goals in the first two matches of the group phase.