07 Aug. 2023
Spain, Egypt, Denmark and Norway are the four qualified teams after the first day of the main round at the 2023 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, with the other four spots to be decided on Tuesday, as this phase of the competition concludes.
Spain’s win against Czechia (29:21), automatically meant that the reigning champions are through in Group II. At the same time, Denmark and Norway also secured their spots between the top eight sides after the latter side’s win against Austria (29:22).
Hosts Croatia navigated through thick and thin against Slovenia but eventually sealed a 32:25 win, their fourth in a row, to edge even closer to a place in the quarter-finals, which can be confirmed on Tuesday after they face Hungary.
Meanwhile, Group IV has gotten more complicated. Saudi Arabia dished another huge surprise after a big comeback against the Islamic Republic of Iran to take a 29:26 win, with all four sides, Germany and the Faroe Islands included, being tied on two points.
- Group I
Croatia vs Slovenia 32:25 (13:11)
With the Slovenian border only 13 kilometres away from the Varaždin Arena, where Croatia’s first game in the main round at the 2023 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship was played, their battle against Slovenia was always going to be fiery and intense, especially as the two points were crucial for the future of the two sides in the competition.
Sure, Croatia were the one starting the group with two points. Still, after Portugal’s win against Hungary earlier, the waters were murkier, and Slovenia brought a gritty challenge. All in all, the game was projected to be a hard one for Croatia and this is exactly what happened, with Slovenia taking the early lead after back Nejc Hriberšek became unstoppable.
Slowly but surely, Croatia crawled back into the game with the same mix of grit and strong defence they had previously displayed in the competition. Yet they were dealt two heavy blows in the form of two red cards conceded by their top scorer, Aleksandar Čaprić and captain Karlo Jurić for tough fouls against Slovenia.
Undeterred, Croatia found their way back into the game and took a 13:11 lead at the break, giving them a strong boost for the second half, as they would have edged closer to the quarter-finals with the crucial win against Slovenia. Yet how they would cope without two crucial backs in Čaprić and Jurić was still up in the air.
Mercurial centre back Vito Glivetić took over, while left back Tonći Ivanišević slotted flawlessly into Čaprić’s place, and Croatia delivered the answer in superb fashion, opening a five-goal gap (19:14) after 44 minutes, firmly in control of the game. As Ivanišević scored seven goals, being Croatia’s top scorer, the hosts managed the gap effortlessly until the end to snatch another win (32:25), proving their title credentials one more time.
Despite winning all four matches played so far, Croatia are still not through to the quarter-finals, but can also afford to lose against Hungary on Tuesday and still progress to the next phase, as everything will be decided after the last day of the main round.
Slovenia, on the other hand, are in a precarious position and will need to win against Portugal in the last game to keep their hopes alive for a place in the quarter-finals after they conceded the second loss in as many games.
hummel Player of the Match: Tonći Ivanišević (Croatia)
- Group II
Spain vs Czechia 29:21 (14:10)
The maths were quite easy before the start of the game: if Spain won against Czechia, both the European champions and the reigning champions Egypt were through to the main round, but on the flip side, Czechia were playing for their lives in this match, with a loss sending them to the Placement Matches.
Therefore, it was always going to be a hard-fought game. Still, Spain had all the big advantages: the experience, the depth and the confidence stemming from the previous three wins in the preliminary round, which meant a lot under these circumstances.
From the early start of the game, Spain took a head start, thanks to back Petar Cikusa I Jelicic and line player Victor Romero Holguín, who were very difficult to stop, with Spain opening an early five-goal lead (11:6), after only 18 minutes. However, in the next 12 minutes of the first half, “Los Hispanos” struggled to find the same rhythm in attack and their weaknesses were exposed.
While Spain might have only scored three times in the last 12 minutes, goalkeeper Alvaro Perez Mendez delivered a superb game between the posts, finishing the first half with a 60% saving efficiency, thanks to the nine saves made in the second part of the half, constantly frustrating Czechia.
Thanks to their experience and depth, rotating all of their players, Spain controlled the game in the second half, staving off any attempt of a comeback. Czechia did pull back to only three goals, with Filip Matouš leading the way, but a 3:0 unanswered run which prevented Czechia from scoring for more than six minutes was the final straw for the European side.
Under the careful watch of Jordi Ribera, the senior team’s coach, Spain controlled the game until the end, never letting Czechia gain a foot back in the game, eventually clinching a 29:21 clear win after they led from start to finish, but also thanks to the excellent performance of Perez Mendez, the hummel Player of the Match, who finished with 16 saves for a 47% saving efficiency.
With their fourth win in as many matches, Spain became one of the qualified sides for the quarter-finals, with a four-point advantage over Brazil and Czechia, with one game to go in the main round. There, they will face Egypt, who are also qualified, with the winners taking the first place in the group.
Czechia, on the other hand, will head to the Placement Matches, with a win against Brazil on Tuesday seeing them play for the 9-12 spots in the final standings, an exciting performance in their debut in the world handball flagship competition.
hummel Player of the Match: Alvaro Perez Mendez (Spain)
- Group III
Norway vs Austria 29:22 (14:10)
Just like Denmark several hours earlier, Norway earned their fourth straight win at Croatia 2023, beating Austria by seven goals. Both Nordic sides secured their quarter-final berths and will fight for the top position in the group in a direct duel on Tuesday, while Austria, who have no points, are now certain to proceed to the Placement Matches 9-16.
Solid defence, 13 saves by Oscar Larsen Syvertsen, who was elected hummel Player of the Match, good job by wings Marius Olseth and Kasper Bjanes Iversen, as well as 10 goals by Lasse Sunde Lid were the factors that helped Norway to win the match. And while their short efficiency was limited to just 56%, it was still a bit higher than Austria's 52%.
The Scandinavians could have done better in attack, but the Austrian goalkeeper Leon Bergmann also did well, ending the game with 16 saves and 38% save efficiency. Thanks to his performance, Austria stayed in the fight for much of the game and kept hopes for a strong comeback alive.
Norway led by three to five goals most of the match, but when another Lid's goal extended the gap to 25:19, five goals from full-time, the outcome was all but decided. At Austria, Clemens Möstl became a top scorer with five goals, but his team ultimately suffered their second straight defeat and will meet North Macedonia in their last Group III match on Tuesday.
hummel Player of the Match: Oscar Larsen Syvertsen (Norway)
- Group IV
Islamic Republic of Iran vs Saudi Arabia 26:29 (14:10)
Saudi Arabia surprised everyone at Hall Marino Cvetković in Opatija after a spectacular comeback against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Saudi Arabia were down by seven, 15 minutes before the final buzzer as Iran was cruising to their third win at Croatia 2023. Poor choices and turnovers reared Iran's heads and pushed their opponents to victory.
With Saudi Arabia now joining Faroe Islands, Germany and Iran on two points, the main round Group IV will have an interesting outcome on Tuesday as all four sides have a chance to progress to the quarter-finals.
Saudi Arabia started off strong, but Amirabbas Zareei had different plans between the posts. They had a lead in their hands only on two occasions early on. When the Islamic Republic of Iran made a 4-0 goal with the help of Ahmad Reza Aram and Mahdi Dareini, it looked like Saudi Arabia gave up for a moment.
With attack efficiency at 50%, which is more than 15% lower than their average, Saudi Arabia couldn't even think of following in the footsteps of their opponents. Iran looked like they were on a steady course to an easy win, at least until the last ten minutes of the game. Saudi Arabia stepped up in their game, went all-in and mounted a story-like comeback.
On the backs of their hero Hussain Furaij, who netted four consecutive times in crucial moments, they narrowed the gap to only two. Iran were left reeling, scoring only two goals in 13 minutes, while Saudi Arabia took advantage of their poor game, mounting an astonishing comeback. Three new straight goals - this time courtesy of Mohammed Alqaid and good Hussain Alsafwani saves; gave Saudi Arabia a four-goal lead, something that seemed impossible in the 45th minute of the game.
Their fellow friends from Iran were left in disbelief at what happened, but the game proved their last nail-biting match at the 2022 AHF Men's Youth Handball Championship was no coincidence as Saudi Arabia got their revenge after an extra-time narrow defeat.
hummel Player of the Match: Hussain Furaij (Saudi Arabia)
Photos: Croatia 2023/Kolektiff images