Croatia’s quarter-final hope still alive

21 Jan. 2023

Croatia’s quarter-final hope still alive

After their handball federation website had implored their fans to ‘believe in miracles’, Croatia kept their 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship quarter-final hopes alive with a business-like performance and 34:26 win against Belgium in their second match of the main round.

The Malmö Arena crowd saw Hrvoje Horvat’s side lead throughout the 60 minutes in an expected win. Still, in the event of an unexpected Danish failure to win later tonight against the United States of America, they will go into their final main round clash against Bahrain, looking for a big win and hoping Denmark lose to the already-qualified Egypt.

Then, the calculators come out.

Main Round Group IV

Croatia vs Belgium 34:26 (21:13)

A must-win match for Croatia had followed an exhilarating 32:32 with reigning double champions Egypt last time out, a match that, while disappointing in terms of the result, delivered a performance which at least showed Horvat that his team were “alive” following their opening-day capitulation against Egypt.

This evening (Saturday 21 January) it took five minutes for Belgium to open their account against a Croatian side who already led 3:0 by the fourth minute. By the 10th, they were four ahead (8:4), and when that lead extended to five (9:4), Belgium coach Yérime Sylla pushed the button on his team – for a time-out.

By this point, Mate Šunjić was already having an inspired performance in the Croatian goal. By the 19th minute, he was already on a 54% save rate (7/13). He would later go on to take the best player award for his decisive action between the posts throughout nearly the entire 60 minutes, ending on a total of 20 saves in all.

Belgium kept trying an extra player on court, but with five first-half turnovers, the two actions did not complement each other.

“It was the first time our rhythm started to work for us and the players were really motivated to make good things,” said Sylla. “We have really good players in front of us. We drew the second half and I’m proud of them.”

Eight goals behind at the break, Belgium could not readjust themselves to cope with the Croatians, who pushed to make it double figures early on in the second period, finally moving ahead by 10 in the 37th minute (25:15).

In the Belgium goal, Jef Lettens did his best with 12 saves overall. Still, he was facing a relentless Croatia attack, only taking their foot off the pedal in the last quarter, allowing their opponents to get back to a single-figure deficit with the half ending 13:13.

As the match entered the last 10 minutes, Horvat wanted to remind his troops of what was expected and he could be heard in his time out (49:55 on the clock) saying, ‘shoot, shoot’. 

“It was a match where we wanted to make some goal difference due to our draw with Denmark,” said the Croatian coach after the match.

“We played very well with our 5-1 defence. In the second half, we stayed off the gasoline. My guys gave everything in the end. We had a very tough match against Denmark last time, and then Belgium played 7 vs 6, so we had to invest extra movement into the play.”

hummel Player of the Match: Mate Šunjić (Croatia)