Spain always had the edge over Slovenia and Denmark pulled away early from Croatia. The full times are:
Spain 26:22 Slovenia
Denmark 30:24 Croatia
So, the 3/4 play off is tomorrow and the final on Sunday.
So it’s come to this. The final Friday of the World Championship and four teams remain to chase the ultimate prize. France have gone home, licking their wounds and looking to rebuild after a decade of domination. They’re joined by others who maybe thought they might stand a chance: bye bye Germany and Russia. Of the four who remain you could probably have picked Spain and Denmark beforehand but look at the Balkan duo of Croatia and Slovenia. They’ve both gone through by winning every game and they’re kept apart again today. This could be a day of glory or heartbreak for the former bits of Yugoslavia. (As ever: if you’re in the UK there is no TV coverage. You’ll need to subscribe at http://www.livehandball.tv or have money in a Bet365 account and access their livestreaming).
6.15pm (UK) Spain v Slovenia
These two sides have met four times competitively and Spain have won all four with an average margin of victory of 8 points. History clearly counts for nothing here though. Slovenia are nicely solid at the back and do things in a smart way when they move forward. They’re also not dependent on one player displaying effective rotation throughout matches. They don’t seem to cop too many penalties either. So whilst they’re not the most thrilling team you’ll ever see they will be hard to beat as their resolve throughout the match against Russia showed. Spain, on the other hand, are all about dynamism. Get the home crowd cheering, pounce on the fastbreaks and defend robustly when necessary. Spain had to come from behind against Germany but ended the match looking like champions. Despite the Slovenians’ undoubted ability and strengths it will feel like a surprise if Spain don’t qualify for the final today.
The bookies say: Spain by 4; Handball Views says: Closer than that but a Spain win
8.30pm Denmark v Croatia
Croatia set their stall out within a minute against France: Drago Vukovic getting a red card for a decapitation. They ‘kept France honest’ throughout the match from that point on. Some solid goalkeeping at the start from Alilovic helped Croatia establish a lead and then, even though the French defence began to restrict Croatia to distance shots, the defence was strong enough to keep them ahead. Nine goals from Domagoj Duvnjak also helped. Croatia will need the same strength and ‘grit’ again today. Denmark are frighteningly good when they click but prone to losing their concentration. They managed to turn a comfortable lead over Hungary in the quarter final into a match requiring a decisive throw from Henrik Møllgaard to douse a Hungarian revival. There’s no doubting their chops, just their focus. History is no guide: 15 meetings this decade and it’s as even a split as possible. This could be very interesting.
The bookies say: Denmark by 1; Handball Views says: Croatia, just.
The final will be on Sunday; losers get to play again for bronze tomorrow.
8.30pm, Croatia v France (BBC Olympics 7, Sky Channel 456 & BBC online)
Congratulations if you predicted that these would be the four teams to contest the men’s semi finals at the Olympics. Double congratulations if you put money on as your winnings have probably got you a small Caribbean island. But these are the four and they divide into two distinct semi finals, one a heavyweight contest the other a not-so-heavyweight contest.
In the latter is Sweden who are obviously a Handball Giant (TM) but who haven’t won a major title since 2002. This probably explains why they reacted like they’d won the gold medal when they beat Denmark 24:22 in the quarter final. They will need to stay focused to get past Hungary who have equalled their previous best in the Olympics by getting to this stage.
Hungary got to the semi final by beating Iceland in a double extra time match. They showed their strengths in coming from behind at the death twice (once in normal time, again in the first extra time) but also failed to close out big leads during the second half of the match.
My prediction is for a match with wild fluctuations in the lead but that Sweden will emerge victorious where they will play …
Both France and Croatia came from behind in their quarter finals. Croatia endured a particularly physical encounter against Tunisia and were particularly indebted to the fact that Ivan Cupic was able to keep his head and keep scoring. They shouldn’t need quite so much protection from the referees today.
France scored their winning goal on 59:59 having overturned a 3-goal deficit at half time. They’ll need to improve on a shooting percentage of 49% and get some scoring support for William Accambray (who got that last-second goal).
My prediction is for an insanely tight match with occasional violent conduct but that France will edge it by the odd goal in 57.
So having predicted that I look forward to a Hungary v Croatia final.
In the end the difference was only a goal but that doesn’t really reflect how much Montenegro were the better team throughout the match. At one point Spain had a shot percentage of 70% (they ended on 60%) but were still behind in the scoreboard – because fundamentally if you’re giving up possession before shooting then you’re going to struggle to win the match.
It was impressive to see how steady Montenegro took the match. They score 4/5 on fast breaks but turned down the opportunity to send the ball quickly down more times than that – preferring to build and then send in a bullet. As well as scoring 6/9 Bojana Popovic always seemed to be on hand to calm things down. The rockets fired in by Katarina Bulatovic, especially from the 7m line, also helped the cause.
Spain on the other hand looked flustered although, as said, their shooting was mostly on the money. They turned over possession too often and could never settle on a pattern to unlock the Montenegrin defence. It was particularly sad at the end to see their goalkeeper Silvia Jimenez unconsolable after such an excellent shot-stopping performance that wasn’t mirrored by the offense.
These are amazing times to be a Montenegrin women’s handball supporter. After Budućnost’s Champions League victory now the national side stand of the brink of an Olympic gold medal. The small matter of Norway stands between them and the title. The Norwegians in the crowd cheered Montenegro, whether out of desire to see the smaller nation win or a feeling that it would be easier for their side I don’t know, but the Beijing winners will have to be on top form to overcome the country that has fought past France and Spain in consecutive rounds.