Fiery Balkan clash sees Croatia win against Montenegro
07 Dec. 2023
In a hard-fought and entertaining game, Croatia made their fans happy with a one-goal win, ending Montenegro's winning run at the 26th IHF World's World Championship. The 26:25 win for Croatia extends their chances for a quarter-finals berth, with Group I projecting to be a very tightly-knit affair.
Main round Group I
Montenegro vs Croatia 25:26 (13:13)
A lot was at stake for both sides at this Balkan derby, and while for Montenegro it was a chance to extend their three-game winning streak and go clear at the top of the standings, Croatia, who had carried just one point over to the main round, were facing a must-win match to stay in the race for a quarter-final berth.
Montenegro's Ivana Godec opened the score, but Croatia responded with a 4:1 run to take an early control of the game, one which they never relented until the end of the match. And while Montenegro drew level at 6:6, Ivica Obrvan's team went on to dominate again, as they were up 10:7, 20 minutes into the game.
Katarina Jezic, who scored four goals from four attempts in the first half, was stellar for Croatia, yet Montenegro restored parity once again before the break, 13:13. Both head coaches took team time-outs before the last attacks of their teams in the first half, but neither Croatia, nor Montenegro managed to score and break the deadlock.
Goalkeeper Marta Batinovic, who shined for Montenegro in the previous matches, suffered a knee injury late in the first half and was replaced by Marina Rajcic, which clearly hampered their chances in the match. Croatia also substituted their goalkeeper, bringing in Lucija Besen – and her string of saves combined with goals from Dejana Milosavljevic helped Obrvan's team to pull clear again after the restart, 19:14 in the 42nd minute.
However, Montenegro did not give up. Rajcic ultimately stopped nine balls for a 35% save rate, while Matea Pletikosic and Itana Grbic combined well in attack to keep their team alive until the end. Five minutes from full-time, they reduced the gap to one goal, 23:24, and although Croatia went on to score twice, goals by Grbic and Bobana Klikovac made the game open again.
15 seconds from the final buzzer, Grbic had a good chance to draw level, but shot wide, leaving the Montenegrins devastated and making their rivals jump for joy after the final whistle.
Croatia won 26:25, exactly with the same score as 10 days ago when the teams met in a friendly match before the current tournament. Now they have three points, while Montenegro stay on four, so both teams will continue to fight for a quarter-final spot, in what projects to be the most balanced group in the main round at the 2023 IHF Women's World Championship.
hummel Player of the Match: Matea Pletikosic (Montenegro)