Can Spain end Croatia’s victorious run in top-of-group clash?
11 Aug. 2019
Croatia arrive in round five at the 2019 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship with a perfect record of four wins, and now have first place in Group A in their sights. A draw or a victory over Spain in the closing match on Monday in Jane Sandanski Arena will be enough to secure it, and Croatia appear in a great position to record the desired result.
Prior to Croatia and Spain’s clash, the other matches in the group will see two direct games for placement. Chile and Saudi Arabia will fight for fifth place, before Slovenia and Norway battle for third. The four European teams in the group are already sure of progression to the eighth-finals.
Feature match: Croatia vs Spain
Jane Sandanski Arena, 20:30 local time
It is looking like a familiar pattern for Croatia – at the 2019 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship, they won all five preliminary round matches and went on to reach the final. At that point it was already clear Croatia were one of the strongest teams at Spain 2019, and it is a similar story so far at the 2019 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship.
Croatia have not only won their four preliminary games so far, but have taken victories of at least 10 goals in every match. Their closest rivals were Norway and Slovenia, against both of whom they recorded 10-goal score lines at the final whistle. Can they do the same against Spain?
“We are playing good in this championship. Defence is our strong weapon. We defeated Slovenia with very good defence and some fast goals,” said Croatia coach Sinisa Markota after their round four win over Slovenia. “I hope we will continue like that in the next matches.”
Spain also have an unbeaten record ahead of the round five match, having defeated Saudi Arabia, Slovenia and Chile, and drawn versus Norway. As Croatia won clearly against all the same opponents, while Spain were level with Norway and beat Slovenia by only three goals, it seems Croatia are more likely to claim the last set of two points to be decided in Group A.
Croatia bring eight points into the round, while Spain count seven. Therefore, a draw will be enough for Croatia to top the group, and Spain need a victory to do so.
As a team they appear stronger, and Croatia also have some great individual stars. Their goalkeeper Stipe Puric ranks among the best in his position at North Macedonia 2019 in terms of both save percentage and number made, with 38 stops at 44%. Their top scorer is right wing Fran Mileta, who was also part of the U21 team at Spain 2019 and even made it into the All-star Team. Mileta has scored 26 goals at the Youth World Championship and missed only three shots in the four matches.
Last matches all about final positions on the table
Round five for Group A will open with Chile taking on Saudi Arabia at 16:30 local time. Neither team have collected any points so far at North Macedonia 2019, and both therefore hope for their first victory. Whichever team takes the win will secure fifth on the table, to contest places 17 to 20 in the President’s Cup, while the other will play for places 21 to 24.
At 16:30 local time, Slovenia and Norway will meet to decide third place. Norway are currently third with five points, ahead of Slovenia on four. Both teams have booked their places in the eighth-finals, but hope for a win to secure the best possible passage through the knock-out round.