24/01/2014

Boxen goes crazy as Denmark clinch final berth

MATCH REVIEW: With Friday night's 29:27 win against Croatia, Denmark are ready for the final against France at the EHF EURO 2014

Photo: Stephane Pillaud

The atmosphere has been intense in Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning on every match night of the EHF EURO 2014, but the 14,000 spectators in the arena practically went crazy with a little less than a minute left of the sem-final between Denmark and Croatia on Friday.

At that point, Rene Toft Hansen closed the match in Denmark's favour with his goal that made it 29:26 and booked Denmark the ticket for the final against France on Sunday.

A few seconds earlier, a lost Croatian ball had practically made it all clear, but Rene Toft's goal removed the last doubt.

"We have reached the semi-final where the four greatest teams of the world are playing. These four teams played tough matches and they can beat each other whenever they meet," said Denmark's head coach Ulrik Wilbek

"We were lucky in the last minutes, Croatia threw ball away, when we were shorthanded (one player down). But I want to praise my team, they came back after bad first half, when we could not find solutions."

The Danish win, as Wilbek mentions, was not secured until deep into the second half.

Croatia had the upper hand throughout the first half which they won 15:13.

The aggressive and fast moving Croatian defence made it a tough challenge for the Danish attack to create scoring opportunities, and at the other end of the court, the Croatians were successful in taking the pace out of the game.

This move slowed down the pace in the Danish defence and made it relatively easier for the Croatians to create opportunities than it was for the hosts.

The two teammates from HSV Hamburg, Hans Lindberg from Denmark and Domagoj Duvnjak from Croatia, saw a lot of each other, as Lindberg went man-to-man on Duvnjak each time the Danes were one player more on the court, which happened four times already in the first half.

In the second half the job to man-mark Duvnjak was taken over by Lasse Svan who has always been succeeding Lindberg at half-time.

While Croatia's coach Slavko Goluza stuck to his well known first-choice line, his counterpart Ulrik Wilbek kept searching for a successful line-up without really finding it in the first 30 minutes.

"In the second half we played much better handball and we were able to keep the pace for the whole 60 minutes," said Denmark's Lasse Svan.

"In the last minutes we had little more strength to run than our opponents."

Improved Danish defence

Apparently Wilbek found solutions during the break - in the defence, anyway, with Klaus Thomsen beside Rene Toft Hansen in the middle.

After Denmark had kept their goal shut despite being two players down for nearly one minutes, they scored the first three goals of the second half when they were back at full strength again.

A little less than six minutes into the second half the reigning European champions enjoyed their first lead in the match, at 16:15, and not until Croatia's 'Best Player', Marko Kopljar, equalised to 16:16 six minutes and 22 seconds into the half, did the Croatians score their first goal after the break.

With the improved Danish defence, the saves also started coming from Denmark's goalkeeper Niklas Landin who had ended the first half with a modest saving percentage of 29.

The stronger defence and Landin's saves also gave the Danes the fast breaks which are such a deadly weapon in their repertoire, and after having taken the lead once, the Danes did not give if away again.

"I know that many teams at this tournament wished to be at our position," said Croatia's coach Slavko Goluza.

"We want to thank to our fans who arrived in big numbers here to support us. They are our biggest motive to fight."

Several times in the second half Denmark were leading by three goals, and even though the Croatians managed to follow them, everything was decided, when Toft Hansen scored to make it 29:26 goal with less than a minute left.

However, it was not Toft Hansen who was awarded Denmark's best player, but left winger Anders Eggert.

written by Peter Bruun / ts