Luka Modrić and Ivano Balić were both in attendance as Croatia were victorious by a score of 24-20 over a resilient Egypt. Despite a few worrisome moments, Croatia never looked in doubt of losing as they led throughout the match for their fourth consecutive victory.
Both sides got off to a slow start, as the teams defended well and Mirko Alilović made some big saves early. 15 minutes in, the score was just 5-3, with Croatia leading. Alilović continued to shine as Croatia struggled to get goals. He ended the half with 11 saves out of Egypt’s 20 shots on target as Croatia led 11-9. Croatia looked very sloppy in the first half and surely received a stern talking to from coach Slavko Goluza as they turned the ball over 10 times and were wasteful on the counterattack.
The second half saw Croatia fix many of their mistakes and pull away from the African champions. The “Cowboys” scored the first four goals of the half to give them a six goal lead and never looked back. The counterattack began to regain its effectiveness as Manuel Štrlek and Zlatko Horvat scored a pair each to increase the deficit further. Egypt fought back against largely Croatian reserves to bring it within four with four minutes to go, but goals from Lovro Sprem and Stipe Mandalinić were enough for the Croats to see the game off.
Alilovic finished with a remarkable 50% save percentage of and picked up the man of the match award. Manuel Štrlek, Ivan Čupić, and Marko Kopljar scored four a piece to lead the Croats.
Slavko Goluza: “It was tough as expected against a strong fighting Egyptian team. I am upset because we made life hard for us by our own doing in the first half, when we received two suspensions and due to this made mistakes in attack and could not extend the gap. I had planned to give playing time to our younger players after the break, but due to the close result I had to leave our experienced players on the court. But finally we won and we are on track. I hope my players can recover on Friday for the decisive match against Spain.”
Mirko Alilovic: “We are playing against Spain to secure the first spot, but in my opinion Spain is the favourite in this great derby. But we are on a mission…”
Croatia’s final group stage match will be a showdown between the top two teams of the group, both undefeated, both expecting to go home with a medal. Croatia will take on Spain on Saturday to determine if they go through the group stage in first or second. The result will have big implications as to who Croatia will play in the later stages. A win would see Croatia likely play Belarus, who are 1-3. A loss would see them face either Serbia or Poland, who are both 3-1. Perhaps more importantly, a loss would mean a potential quarterfinal matchup with medal contenders Denmark.