Hrvatska started their 2nd leg of the 2012 Handball Championships against a fiery Spanish squad. With 3 wins so far, and an amazing amount of support from traveling Hrvati, many were looking to the Croatians to post another victory on Sunday.
Even though the Hrvati took a bit of time to warm up, they were able to grab the lead after Spain broke out to a quick 3-0 start. With high pressure on Balic for the entire first half, the Spaniards were hoping to shut down the strongest part of the Croatian attack down the middle. Balic was not phased by the Spaniard’s tactics, and began dumping the ball to the wing, where Strlek was able to show off his talents putting in 3 tries in the first half. Along with Strlek’s contributions, Lackovic and Cupic were able to continuously convert from their spots on the floor. Croatia’s goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic showed why he was one of the best keepers in the tournament blocking everything that Spain threw at him. With a wall in front of net and a solid offensive performance, the Croatian side looked to be heading to victory up 14-11 at half.
Unfortunately, Goluza must have put his troops to sleep during half time, as Spain quickly closed the gap in the lead just minutes into the second half. Spain were able to find a weakness, and began dumping the ball off to Tomas Gonzales who racked up 5 points for the Spaniards in the second half. Potentially one of the smallest men on the court, Tomas was hurting Croatia on the wing and on the break. Along with the Spaniards dominance on offense, they were able to shut down the one dimensional Croatian attack from the middle. With just over 7 minutes left, Croatia finally sent the ball wide to Strlek who blasted in a goal from the wing, breaking the deadlock and opening up the Spanish defense. Just when Croatia look to be pulling away, the Spaniards shut down the Croatian attack and ramped up their defense. With 4 minutes left and a tie game, Kopljar shot his team in the foot allowing a goal and giving the Spaniards a man advantage. From there, it was the Spaniards game to control. Balic fought to get his team back to even pegging, but in the end the ferocity of the Spaniards earned them a victory.
Photo: Sascha Klahn
In the end, both teams made quite a few mistakes but Spain made them at the right time. Croatia dominated the first half in almost every category, but all those stats flipped to favor the Spanish in the second. Even though Cupic was able to convert on all his penalty shots, the Spaniards dominated in the turnover and fast break department. Once the Croatians began losing the ball, the Spaniards had to spend less time trying to score and were able to give more energy protecting their goal. Croatia NEED to play Cupic and Strlek on the wings more if they want to have any hopes in opening teams up in the future. Finally, I have to give a lot of credit to Alilovic this game. Throughout the entire tournament, he’s kept his team in games with amazing saves at crucial times in the match. Without him, the moody Croatian defense would be quickly sinking their team into defeat.
Now 2nd in their group, Croatia has to go up against former champions France. Even though the French have not had a good showing, don’t be surprised if they try to bounce back in this second stage. Be sure to catch the games here at 12:10 PST