Bronze medal match becomes a mind game

MATCH PREVIEW: Croatia and Spain know each other well from matches for third place

Photos: Uros Hocevar / Stephane Pillaud

Both teams were close to reaching the final, but now they face for bronze on Sunday at the Jyske Bank Boxen (15:00 hrs) - just as they have done several times before.

For the third time since August 2008, Croatia and Spain are the opponents in a bronze final at a major tournament.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Spain had the upper hand with a 35:29 victory to win bronze. In Belgrade, at the EHF EURO 2012, Croatia turned the tide, finishing third with a 31:27 win.

This match in Serbia was the starting point for a series, which never had occurred in handball before.

Croatia won three unanswered bronze medals. The first one at the EHF EURO 2012, the next one at the Olympic Games 2012 and the last one to date at the World Championship 2013.

We are experts in winning bronze finals now," said goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic.

Zlatko Horvat takes it with irony: "Once again we have to play for the bronze medal, but we are getting used to it and we are going to secure it for sure," he said.

Line player Igor Vori is one of a few to play his third bronze medal match against Spain. And he is sure that "only the heads will decide, not the bodies. Psychology is what counts on Sunday.”

Both teams have exactly the same record at the EHF EURO 2014: Croatia and Spain topped their preliminary round groups with a clean sweep of three wins from three matches.

They then lost their respective top matches against the eventual main round group winners Denmark and France and after another two main round victories both lost their semis – Croatia against Denmark and Spain against France.

In terms of winning EHF EURO bronze medals, Croatia have a 2:1 lead compared to Spain, as they ranked third in 1994 and 2012, while Spain won their only EHF EURO bronze medal in 2000.

Overall, the statistics clearly predict another Croatian win, as from 20 official matches against Spain they have won 14 including the last three.

But the Spanish players are eager to win this time: "We have to switch our heads, we have to stand up again and we will do everything to win this medal.

"Of course we want to take revenge on the defeat in the bronze final at the EHF EURO 2012. A medal is what counts tomorrow, nothing else," said Spanish wing player Victor Tomas.

"To win a bronze medal at an EHF EURO event is a great motivation, and winning the medal would mean a great day for Spanish handball and for Spain in general," added Spanish coach Manuel Cadenas.

And line player Julen Aguinagalde said: "There’s no favourite in this match, both teams have the same journey behind. I would rate the tournament successful, if we win a medal on Sunday."

His team mate Joan Canellas has an additional task to fulfill.

After his brilliant ten-goal performance against France, he only needs three more goals to become EHF EURO 2014 top scorer.

Currently Canellas has 42 goals on his tally, while Icelandic Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson tops the ranking with 44 strikes.

written by Björn Pazen / ts