15 Aug. 2019
Japan finished ninth at the 2019 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship thanks to a victory over Croatia in a match that needed a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner. Croatia fought back to level in the final minutes of regular time, but in the end it was a missed shot in the penalty shoot-out that determined the outcome.
9/10 PLACEMENT MATCH
Croatia vs Japan 35:36 (30:30)(15:18)
It seemed the match should be clear win for Croatia, who were one of just three teams that reached the knock-out round with a perfect record of five victories in the preliminary round. As they beat four of their five opponents by at least 10 goals, Croatia had seemed one of the strongest teams at North Macedonia 2019 – and it was something of a surprise when they were eliminated by Hungary in the eighth-final.
That experience was clearly difficult for Croatia to recover from, and they struggled to find their best game versus Japan. For Japan, the match represented the chance to fight for just one ranking lower than what they achieved in 2017, where their nation made it to the quarter-finals before placing eighth.
Early on, it seemed Croatia were very motivated to prove their elimination in the eighth-finals was a one-off. They quickly created an advantage and led by a steady two to three-goals during the first quarter. But a series of saves, post hits and turnovers from Croatia’s players created the chance for Japan to level the game.
Croatia had clearly thought the match would be less of a challenge than it was, as second goalkeeper Fran Lucin started between the posts before Stipe Puric came on when the momentum began to swing towards Japan. A goal from Daiki Kani brought the score to 11:11 in the 18th minute, and in the last five minutes of the half, Japan forged an advantage of three that stood at the break.
Croatia’s nightmare continued in the second half, as they were unsuccessful on shots they would ordinarily have scored, hitting the post or completely missing the goal. In other moments, Japan’s goalkeepers saved Croatia’s attempts. But Croatia managed a comeback nevertheless – after a four-goal distance when the last quarter began, the European team came within one at 25:26 on the 50th minute.
Japan reopened the gap to 25:28, and Croatia fought back again. With Fran Mileta’s penalty goal in the 56th minute, the deficit was reduced to one, 28:29. Back Karpo Sirotic equalised for Croatia in the 57th minute, and it was a tense end to the game as the score stood level when the last time-out was called with 12 seconds on the clock and Japan in possession.
Japan could not find their way past Croatia’s defence, and the match was sent to a penalty shoot-out in accordance with the competition regulations for placement matches. During the five shots for each side, Mileta’s shot hit the post and bounced out, before Lucin made a save that meant sudden death. Both sides scored the first shots, but when Marin Sincic missed and Taiga Tsutaya converted, the winner was decided.
Player of the match: Kosuke Yasuhira, Japan