06 Aug. 2023
After four playing days in four venues, 48 games played, and 2,893 goals scored, 16 teams secured the main round berth and battle for the quarter-finals. 12 European sides, including hosts Croatia, will enter the fray for the knock-out stage alongside four non-European teams - Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia, reigning champions Egypt and Brazil.
- 17:30 CEST Hungary vs Portugal
Hungarians are coming in strong with three straight wins at the 10th IHF Men's Youth World Championship. It is part of the process they started with this generation which finished fourth at the M18 EHF EURO 2022. Having fifth place in the 2019 edition as their best ranking in history, a win against Portugal would give an additional impetus to the Hungarians, who are starting the main round journey with two points.
Hungary have one of the best defences in the competition, conceding only 58 goals or 19.33 on average, with only Germany being in front of them. Hungarian game is not fully focused on one player, but Roland Terjék and Kristóf Csörgő were their team's strongest weapons in the attack.
They will meet will a well-known opponent, Portugal, who they narrowly won last year by 24:23. Sure, the Hungarian game made progress, and it will be interesting to see how Portugal will bounce back after a tough defeat against Croatia.
Portugal have pressure on their backs not to end up like the generation with the lowest ranking, but fairly, this is only their third appearance at the flagship competition. They had a perfect streak until they met with Croatia, who were able to break all of Portugal's defensive tryings. The Portuguese leader on the court is Nuno Oliveira, ADA Maia Ismai's left wing, who has netted 20 times so far.
- 19:30 CEST Croatia vs Slovenia
Host Croatia are one of seven unbeaten teams at Croatia 2023, and they want to continue that perfect streak. The most efficient attack of the IHF Men's Youth World Championship is starting the main round as the top team with two points ahead of the first encounter with neighbouring Slovenia.
Croatia's offensive skills were a delight for the fans in Varaždin as centre back Aleksandar Čaprić, left wing Marko Bajan and right wing Tonći Ivanišvić lead the pack with 17 goals each. However, head coach Krešo Ivanković's secret weapon is changing the defence. Mostly they play in 6-0 and 5-1 zone, but if needed, Croatians are well known for the 3-2-1 defence.
"We are facing two great teams in the main round. A somewhat easier win against Portugal shouldn't mean anything to us as we must not relax. Maybe we are a better team than Slovenia, but we need to prove that on the court," said Croatia's goalkeeper Tin Herceg for hrs.hr.
Slovenia stumbled upon Hungary at the closing of Group B and lost the top-of-the-group battle by 25:29. However, never placed worse than 15th place, Slovenia will want to show they made progress since their 11th place at the M18 EHF EURO 2022 by having the third most efficient defence at Croatia 2023, conceding only 19.67 goals on average. Suppose Luka Kačičnik continues his goal-getter skills and Ivo Jan Marušić delivers a strong performance between the posts. In that case, Slovenia have a chance against a team whom they have known for ages.
- 17:30 CEST Egypt vs Brazil
Egyptian players are starting the main round with two points after they sealed the first spot in Group C. The game against Iceland, who had a special motive, was everything but easy. The African powerhouse made a great comeback in the game to clinch a 33:30 win and once again showed why they are one of the contenders for a medal at Croatia 2023.
Even though Egypt's offence or defence are not among the top 10 at the 10th IHF Men's Youth World Championship, don't let them fool you. Slowly warming up and still with plenty of skills to show, Egypt's well-known style of play and strong back shooters are a challenging task for any opponent. A team which can easily score from fast breaks but mainly relies on nine-metre shots is led by Ziad Hashad, who has netted 15 times so far, followed by left wing Belal Masoud and centre back Mohamed Elsayed.
After two straight low rankings, Brazil are back among the top 16 in their eighth consecutive appearance at the IHF Men's Youth World Championship. While the Brazillian team could not break Spain, who proved to be a much stronger opponent, they outdid themselves against the Republic of Korea, clinching the narrow win (31:30). On the last day, they confirmed the main round spot by beating Bahrain but now they will clash with an even stronger opponent.
- 19:30 Spain vs Czechia
Reigning European champions walked through Group D without issues against Brazil, Bahrain and the Republic of Korea. Spain were delivering a recognisable Spanish style of play and are determined to return to the former glory of playing at the final weekend after their 2019 appearance ended in seventh place.
Spain have four players who scored ten or more goals - Petar Cikuša-Jeličić, Alberto Delgado Molina, Xavier Gonzalez Unciti and the best among them, Victor Romero Holguin. With more easy games in the group, the Spaniards can be proud that 15 out of 16 players scored at least once at Croatia 2023, including goalkeeper Pol Amores Hernandez. His teammate Alvaro Perez Mendez is also their crucial link when it comes to on-point saves.
"It will be very difficult against Czechia and later against Egypt. They are two very good teams who have done very well in the group stage and have a lot of potential. But we are very excited and we hope that the team will continue to play as well as they did in the group phase," said Spanish head coach Javier Fernández for rfebm.com.
Czechia are having a dream start to their first-ever IHF Men's Youth World Championship. In a challenging group with reigning world champions Egypt, strong Iceland and plucky Japan, they managed to find their spot among the top 16 after beating Iceland. Young Czech players couldn't keep up with Egypt, but the fight they have put on is a good sign that they can maybe make one more surprise at the competition. Spain's defence will have to find a way to stop Daniel Erebai, Jonáš Josef and Filip Matouš, Czechia's top scorers.
"I want to highlight the situations when we were able to get back into the game several times when we were down against Japan. I hope playing like this will take us further and that whatever the course of the competition we will take, we will be more calm in our play," said Czech head coach Jiří Hynek for handball.cz.
- 17:30 CEST Denmark vs North Macedonia
Denmark are coming into the game from the pole position in Group E after three easy wins. In a not-so-challenging group for them, the young Danish squad was able to rest some of the best players but still prepare well for the quarter-final battle. The second-best attack of Croatia 2023 with 124 goals scored, or 33.33 goals per game on average, aims to make a good start into the game without giving their opponents much room to navigate.
The Danes are well known for their fast-paced handball, which is their main weapon. Proof of that are 23 goals scored from fast breaks and on top of that, their play with the wings proved to be a true delight if the defence managed to stop back players. In goals galore games, Frederik Emil Pedersen took the spotlight with 22 goals scored so far.
However, their opponents are not coming with a white flag. North Macedonia showed fighting spirit already at the M18 EHF Championship 2 2022 and they transferred that same ambition to Croatia 2023. In the group phase, they beat Georgia and their fellow Balkan friends Montenegro but lost to another Scandinavian team - Norway, by 25:27. It was a close call with a mounted comeback, and North Macedonia hope they will show the same against Denmark.
"Our goal was to win against Georgia and to secure the main round, and I have to congratulate my players for good play. We will try to get some rest and prepare well for Denmark. We all know Denmark have a good rotation and we will try to get a better rotation with some changes in the squad. You all saw how strong Denmark is; they beat Austria by 15 goals. But we will not back down; just like against Norway, we will fight until the end. We have a strong character," said North Macedonian head coach Radoslav Stojanovikj for 24rakomet.mk.
North Macedonia can rely on their goalkeepers David Brestovac and Ivan Galevski, both having great days at the office. In the attack, it will be interesting to see how head coach Radoslav Stojanovikj will set things up with some announced changes in the squad, but Mirche Kalajdijeski is still their top scorer with 12 goals on his tally.
- 19:30 Norway vs Austria
Norway reached their first objective at the 10th IHF Men's Youth World Championship even though they did not have it easy as some of the other top 16 participants. Yes, they did a great job in the last two group games against Montenegro and Georgia, but North Macedonia put up the fight at the opener in Rijeka.
The team that have never won a medal at the youth stage believe they learned their lesson at the pre-competition tournament in Sweden and are ready to conquer the group in the battle for the quarter-finals. With recognisable Norwegian handball and powerful back shooters, while trying to produce easy goals from fast breaks, Norway have five players that have scored at least ten times so far, with Marius Olseth being the first name with 20 goals.
After a ten-year absence, they will enter the fray with the European side, who is back at the flagship competition. Mounting their way to Croatia 2023 after winning M18 EHF Championship 3 2022, Austria's only problem in the group was Denmark. Backed by the goalkeeper Leon Theodor Bergmann, and his 40% save efficiency, Austrians can count on easy goals by Stefan Wuzella and Elmar Böhm.
Even though they might not be favourites on paper, the Austrian side have a slightly more effective attack than the Norwegians, but the statistics are balanced out when you check the defensive numbers. Therefore, we could be looking at a tight game until the game.
- 17:00 CEST Germany vs Faroe Islands
Germany just started to warm up, judging by their results in the group. With three no-nonsense wins against Saudi Arabia, the United States of America and Argentina, Emir Kurtagic's team was able to try different tactics and given a fair chance to feature in the game to all players. While their attack is unquestionable with left wing Marvin Siemer leading the way with 22 goals, their true power is defence.
The Germans are the most efficient defence of the competition, conceding only 55 goals or 18.33 goals per game on average. When you add Marc Julian Buchele to the mix with 44.6% save efficiency, they will be a hard nut to crack not just for the Faroe Islands but for everyone they may run into.
To have one foot already in the quarter-finals, they will need to break lucky Faroe Islands, who delivered the performance of their life in the battle for the main round against Sweden. Fighting spirit and never backing down was the mantra for the competition's debutants.
When you start with a defeat over Burundi, you let the win slip from your hands against Iran, and then you beat Sweden to be among the top 16; you know the team is bursting with newly gained confidence. Even though Germany are favourite on the paper, they should be aware of the Faroese, especially Oli Mittun. The competition's top scorer, with 37 on his tally, also leads the way with 20 assists.
- 19:00 CEST Islamic Republic of Iran vs Saudi Arabia
The first day of Group IV in Opatija will be closed with an all-Asian duel. The Islamic Republic of Iran came to the 10th IHF Men's Youth World Championship after 13 years of absence, and they surprised everyone with their performance in the group, leaving behind them Faroe Islands, Sweden and Burundi. With the help of the Faroese, Iran are starting the main round with two points.
Their opponents? Well-known Saudi Arabia. Two sides already met in the semi-finals of the 2022 AHF Men's Youth World Championship, and it was a thriller match all the way. After the regular time ended in a tie, after two extra times, Iran were the lucky side taking away a 33:32 win. Saudi Arabia will have no lack of impetus on Monday.
The game will also be the clash of two powerful back shooters - Amirhossein Kamari and Hussain Furaij. Iran's Karami has been instrumental for his side, with 30 goals altogether, placing him in second place on the top scorer's list. Right behind him, Furaij's 24 goals saw Saudi Arabia snatch a point against Argentina and reach a high win against the United States of America.
If Brazil wants to stop the Egyptian train, they need to toughen up their defensive wall to help the goalkeepers and minimise their technical mistakes. 46 turnovers in three games are not the best base if you want to challenge the favourites. Yet, Mikael Lopes Candido and Lucas Gabriel Vieira Da Silva will try to top their best performances and make Egypt sweat.
Photos: Croatia 2023/Kolektiff images