I predicted a close one, I was wrong. There aren’t many in Barcelona tonight who will care.
In the most one-sided final in the history of the competition, Spain were the winners in front of an ecstatic home crowd. The most significant damage was done in the second quarter as a one-goal match turned into a 18:10 lead for Spain over the suprisingly underwhelming Danes. Joan Canellas top-scored for the Spanish with 7 and he and his fellow attackers were backed up by a stingy defence and some excellent goalkeeping.
20,000 saw the match in the hall – no doubt a few million more across Spain saw it on TV. It’s the biggest story on the El Pais site right now. The boost that Spanish handball maybe needed. The Danes may be sore but they can look forward to next year and being Euro 2014 hosts.
For now, though, the glory is all Spain’s.
Seven unanswered goals in the first ten minutes of the second half turned what had been a fairly even and compelling match between beaten semi-finalists Croatia and Slovenia into a one-sided stroll. Croatia took it from 14:14 to 21:14 before eventually taking the match 31:26. Domagoj Duvnjak again top-scored for the Croats, this time with 9 goals.
2013 World Championship Final
Spain v Denmark
4.15pm (UK), Sunday 27 January, Palau Saint Jordi
Live on Premier Sports (Sky Channel 428 – free) and on bet365.com live streaming
So, here we are then. The European Champions against the hosts in a battle for the world title. Spanish handball had so much riding on its first ever hosting of the World Championship. Despite the strength of the top teams in the Asobal the rest of the league hasn’t had such an easy ride and there were fears that the public’s attention may be wandering … Hopefully a sell out of 16,500 in Barcelona and a clear shot on a Sunday afternoon should go some way to reminding the good people of Spain of the great game they have in their midst. And, hopefully as well, they will get to see a classic final regardless of who emerges triumphant.
Denmark came so close two years ago. France defeated them in extra time. But, since then, they’ve had experience in winning despite a passionate home crowd urging them to defeat – their taking of the Euro 2012 crown came against the hometown Serbs and their deafening support. Perhaps significantly (though perhaps not) Denmark beat Spain in the semi finals in Serbia – and whilst their matches have always been close (the average difference is under 2 goals) it is Denmark who have won six of their last seven meetings.
None of those matches were in Spain in a home World Championship though.
Spain have clearly relished the crowd. In their match against Serbia, for example, it seemed to be the extra man forcing opposition fumbles and propelling fastbreaks in response. When they fell behind against Germany it’s hard to see how their momentum back into the game could have been maintained without the surging insanity of the home support. Things might have been more straightforward against Slovenia but then the Slovenes can’t have enjoyed that every moment that something didn’t go their way the crowd reacted as if someone had given the title to Spain. For all the Spain are a strong side without the added extra the home advantage brings it would be hard to predict a victory for them.
Spain have scored the second most goals in the tournament: 245 in 8 matches. Want to guess which team beats them and has a significantly better scoring percentage in doing so? In Albert Rocas and Victor Tomas, Spain have two great counter-attack shooters and 7m takers. On the other hand, Denmark have Anders Eggert who has 23/24 from the penalty line. Both teams move the ball nicely to the wing when needed but have a good variety of attacking options – but maybe Denmark have the upper hand in being able to call on Mikkel Hansen to impose himself when needed. His tournament has been a bit underwhelming so far by his talismanic standards – Spain will hope it remains that way.
In defence, again, they are similar but you’d have to give Denmark the edge. Spain have a save percentage of 34%; Denmark 37%. The stat that could be significant in a match where turnovers and pounces on mistakes could be critical is that Denmark have done a much better job at preventing opposition fastbreaks turning into goals. Against Croatia, as well, it was noticeable that Denmark were able to (fairly) physically impose themselves into a game to prevent attacks spreading; Spain failed that test against Croatia and it resulted in their only defeat in the tournament. They’ve not faced a similar team since but Denmark will need to be stopped somehow.
So, there will be goals. Lots of goals. Spain will be hoping for more and more because if the game is high scoring it’ll mean the Danish defensive strengths aren’t working and we’ll be in a shooting match that either team could win. A tighter or more controlled game – one that silences the crowd for stretches – and you’d have to back Denmark.
But, honestly, this could go either way.
What the bookies say: Too close to call for the end of 60 minutes result; Denmark marginal favourites overall
What Handball Views says:
Denmark. Spain. Denmark. Spain.
Bless the good people at Premier Sports. The World Championship Final between Spain and Denmark will be live from 4.05pm (match starts 4.15pm) on Sunday 27 January on Sky Channel 428. Free to anyone as well as they’re having a freeview weekend.
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.
Drama aplenty today … here’s how the matches ended:
Russia 27:28 Slovenia
Spain 28:24 Germany
Denmark 28:26 Hungary
France 23:30 Croatia
The semi finals are:
Slovenia v Spain
Denmark v Croatia
and they will both be played in Barcelona on 25 January.
Today we move into the final eight stage of the World Championship. We are in sight of the final and the glory that brings. But before then we have the heartache that going out before the medal rounds will bring. There will be tears and cheers today – and hopefully some good, close handball. As ever, if you’re in the UK, you’ll need to go online to watch. That’s livehandball.tv and pay a subscription or Bet365 and have some money in an account. But enough of the preamble, let’s get to the amble:
5.15pm (UK) Russia v Slovenia
This is the second meeting between these two teams in World Championship history: seven years ago Russia overturned an 18:16 deficit to record a 31:27 win. It will go against form if the same were to happen today. Somehow the IHF ranks Slovenia 23rd and Russia 3rd in the global men’s game. We’ve not seen that in Spain. Slovenia have been the only team to play consistently in pretty much every match and, as a result, they have won every match. Russia was heavily dependent on their goalkeeper, Igor Levshin, in the previous round against Brazil. They need to find more ways of moving forward – and speed up their game which very often has dropped to pedestrian levels. A goalscorer other than Timur Dibirov would also help.
The bookies say: Slovenia by 1; Handball Views says: Slovenia in extra time
6pm Spain v Germany
Are we excited yet? Spain have beaten Germany in five of their last eight competitive meetings and in front of their home crowd will be expecting to do so again. They were ruthless against Serbia – if you’ve seen how the Norway women’s team pounce on the ball and then launch a fastbreak that crushes hopes you’ll know what I mean. And Spain did it time and again to establish a dominant position they never remotely looked like losing. They did wobble a bit against Croatia in the group stage but could put that down to having already qualified. Germany showed against Macedonia that they too can move the ball quickly when needed and they have a tournament leading 95% fastbreak efficiency (scoring 36 times this way in their 6 games so far). This game could boil down to who makes the fewest errors and respects possession the most. If Germany are to win I’d guess they need to hit the front early as with the crowd going wild it’ll be hard to come from behind.
The bookies say: Spain by 5; Handball Views says: Spain all day long
7.45pm Denmark v Hungary
Given that Denmark are one of the favourites it’s possibly a surprise to note that Hungary hold the edge in recent encounters. Denmark were runners-up to France two years ago and have played this tournament like a horse conserving energy for the sprint after the final fence. They haven’t been inspiring but they have done what they need to do. They eased past Tunisia in the last round but with players such as Mikkel Hansen and Anders Eggert capable of turning matches by themselves they can always find that next gear. Hungary are a team without any dominant stars (or so it appears to me): Gabor Csaszar leads their scoring with 25 but he’s part of a group of half a dozen with a similar tally. It will be that sort of dogged togetherness which may see them hang in today but anything other than Danish win will be the upset of the tournament.
The bookies say: Denmark by 5; Handball Views says: Denmark by 5
8.30pm France v Croatia
In the twelve competitive matches logged on Handball Wettpoint, France have a 7-5 advantage. But two of those were major finals: the 2009 World and 2010 European finals went bleu. Croatia have their own titles too of course: two Olympic golds and a World title. This is the Big One of the quarter final stage. Read off a list of the French squad and as well as sounding like a PSG shopping list it’s a roll call of the most exciting players in the game: Karabatic, Dinart and Abalo, backed with the shouty and fun Thierry Omeyer in goal. Croatia have come to the tournament without Ivano Balic and with a coach talking about a ‘transition’ team or why this isn’t an important tournament to win because you don’t qualify for another as a result. Croatia’s performances have shown such lines up for the hooey they are. They won all five of their group matches and then smashed Belarus 21:9 in a single half of play. Ivan Cupic has led the way with 39 goals, 30 of which have come from fast breaks or 7m slams. Expect this game to go down to the wire.
The bookies say: France by 1; Handball Views says: France come from behind to win
How do you feel about destiny? After Spain brushed aside what might have been expected to be an akward test against Serbia their fans must be starting to dream of a win for the home side in their first go at hosting the championship. Elsewhere it was business as usual for Slovenia and Croatia but Hungary and Poland at least had a match that had occasional moments of interest …
Slovenia 31:26 Egypt
Ten goals from Ahmed Mostafa were not enough for the Egyptians who were blitzed in the final stages of the first half, falling from level pegging to eight behind. They never got close enough in the second stanza but at least they weren’t embarrassed by the final score.
Serbia 20:31 Spain
The hall wasn’t full but by volume it might as well have been. Spain were in white, the Serbs in red which was a bit confusing but what was pretty straightforward was how the Spanish pounced on every Serb error in the opening stages and then never looked back. Albert Rocas had the most fun landing seven goals from seven attempts.
Croatia 33:24 Belarus
After six minutes Ivan Cupic scored from the 7m line to put Croatia up by 2 – the first time in the match either team had such a lead. By half time Croatia led 21:9 and Belarus’s save percentage was in single figures. Belarus aren’t a bad side but Croatia are playing like a team who want people to notice that they’re not just here to make up the numbers.
Hungary 27:19 Poland
This was close at half time with Hungary owning a 11:10 advantage but the boys in red pulled away in the first section of the second half to move out to 17:11 around the 40 minute mark and then not really looking back.
The quarter final draw therefore looks like this (all matches to be played 23 January):
Denmark v Hungary
France v Croatia
Germany v Spain
Russia v Slovenia
Day 2 of the knock out stages and all eyes are probably on Serbia v Spain. But there are other matches too. So here’s our look at them all.
6pm (UK) Slovenia v Egypt
It’s not the most glamourous tie of the round and it should be a routine win for Slovenia who qualified with five wins from five. Egypt did enough in their group by taking a draw against Algeria and then progressing on goal difference. Slovenia have a European second place to their name (in 2004) and reached the quarter finals last year but they’ve never finished better than 10th in the Worlds. Egypt took third place in last year’s African championship but can boast being the only non-European side to reach a World Championship semi final – unfortunately that was over a decade ago. This should be a relatively straightforward progression for Slovenia.
Winner plays Russia
6pm Serbia v Spain
Hands up who saw this match appearing as early as the Round of 16? This match will be a proper test for the title credentials of the #hispanos. Spain have won the last two encounters between the sides (both last year, in Olympic qualifying and then at the Games themselves) and away from their hometown venues Serbia are much less dominant. In their group they lost to both Poland and Slovenia. But then, Spain similarly fell to Croatia in their last match. I’m going to go with Spain but I think it will be close.
Winner plays Germany
8.30pm Hungary v Poland
Two efficient but strangely uninspiring sides meet in the late game in Barcelona. Poland made it to the World Championship final in 2007 and were third in 2009 but now stand 11th in the IHF rankings. They have grit – coming from behind to beat Serbia – and are also good at closing out matches. If you know Hungary at all you’ll know that they routinely finish 4th in the Olympics. In the World Championship they don’t often make it that far – a semi final and losing final spot being their tally. There’s no shame in having lost to Croatia and Spain in the group stages and for no reason other than they’ve been stretched more by their opposition I’m going with Hungary today.
Winner plays Denmark
8.30pm Croatia v Belarus
Croatia have two Olympic and one World titles; Belarus have two World Championship appearances. This is a proper top qualifier v bottom qualifier match up and any result other than a comfortable win for the Croatians will see me buying and wearing a Belarus top as punishment.
Winner plays France