11 Aug. 2023
Reigning European champions Spain made a big step towards etching their name into another trophy, qualifying for the 2023 IHF Men's Youth World Championship final after a dominating win (37:29) against hosts Croatia.
On Sunday, Spain, who have two silver medals in the competition's history, will face Denmark as they try to secure their first-ever world trophy in this age category.
- Croatia vs Spain 29:37 (11:15)
The match could not have started better for Croatia, whose 5-1 defence, which shifted to 4-2 at times, surprised Spain, as the reigning European champions failed to get anything meaningful going on. In fact, Croatia were so dominant in defence, they even managed to steal three balls, creating dangerous fast breaks.
Right back Petar Krupić was the chief disruptor in Croatia's defence, being everywhere on the court, with two steals in defence and four goals from four shots in attack, as the hosts created an 8:5 gap. Spain were nowhere to be seen, being put under real pressure for the first time at the 2023 IHF Men's Youth World Championship.
After 15 minutes, when Croatia were leading 8:5, Spain's coach Javier Fernandez Lopez called a team time-out and instilled new life in his side. It proved to be the right decision that would likely change the outcome of the game, as "Los Hispanos" looked like a totally different team.
The attack was more free-flowing, mistakes evaporated, and the defence was absolutely stellar. Croatia failed to reply, even if they celebrated strongly when Fernandez Lopez stopped the game for one minute. In the next 15 minutes, Croatia scored only three times, with mistakes piling up.
On the other hand, Spain used that 10:3 run to turn the game on its head, and it was Croatia's turn to be under serious pressure, with the trophy dream being further and further away, with only 30 minutes to attempt their own comeback and fuel their hopes.
It looked like Croatia had something going, an ace upon their sleeve, as they cut the gap to only three goals at the start of the second half, with Krupić delivering his best performance so far at the 2023 IHF Men's Youth World Championship, as he finished the game with nine goals.
But it was far from enough, with Spain relying once again on their depth and working like a fine-oiled machine to open a seven-goal gap (26:19), the largest until that moment in the game, as right wing Xavier González Unciti was absolutely unstoppable, putting 11 goals himself on the board.
It was not for Croatia's lack of trying, but eventually, Spain were too good, made fewer mistakes, pounced when it was needed and sealed a clear 37:29 win, securing a place in the final for the third time in history, with a dominating display, which yielded their seventh win in a row.
12 years after the first final at the IHF Men's Youth World Championship between Denmark and Spain, when the Scandinavian side clinched the trophy with a 24:22 win, the two teams will meet again as the only two sides with a seven-game winning run in the competition.
Hosts Croatia will head to the bronze medal game, were they are due to face Egypt, in a winner-take-all situation, with the European side trying to secure their fifth medal in history.
hummel Player of the Match: Xavier González Unciti (Spain)
Photo: Croatia 2023/Kolektiff images