As expected, the Croatian Cowboys’ 2023 World Championships ended today after a 43-32 win against Bahrain, which unfortunately leaves them trailing both Denmark and Egypt in the final group standings, with only two teams advancing. Croatia put up an admirable fight after their opening day 9-goal loss to Egypt, but were always going to need a minor miracle to advance given the circumstances; and were officially eliminated with Denmark’s 30-25 victory over Egypt.
The unfortunate reality is that while Croatia are certainly still one of the top eight teams in the world, they have underperformed in the past few years in major tournaments and seem to be entering a phase where they likely won’t be competing for medals for a few years. Croatia can still leave with their head held high though after going toe-to-toe and tying 2x reigning World Champions, Denmark, who are certainly still the favorite heading into the quarterfinals. We have to hope that the next generation is ready soon given that Croatia will be a co-host of the 2025 World Championships in only two years.
So, where does today’s elimination leave Croatian handball moving forward? Croatia are already well on their way to qualifying for next year’s Euros, topping their group currently, with home and away matches coming up in March against the Netherlands. As insignificant as finishing 9th overall in a World Championships is, it does mean that with today’s win, Croatia in all likelihood will have qualified for the 2024 Olympics qualifying tournament (presuming one of the teams that finished 1st-8th wins next year’s Euros and Egypt wins the 2024 African Cup, which if either were to not occur, it would be a major surprise). After unexpectedly missing the 2020 Olympics, expectations will be high that Croatia can at least qualify for the 2024 version in Paris.