Croatia and Denmark: Two Handball Powerhouses Meet in Decisive Monday Match

Daniela Rogulj

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Croatia suffered a shocking defeat to Argentina on Saturday night, complicating their path to the quarterfinals of the World Championship in Egypt. While a win would have locked in a spot among the eight best national teams, Croatia must now defeat reigning Olympic and World Champions Denmark and rely on a Qatar victory against Argentina to push them through to the next phase of the tournament. 

Argentina and Qatar play from 6 pm on Monday, and Croatia and Denmark meet two and a half hours later – at 8:30 pm CET.

Denmark is no stranger to Croatia, and behind Spain and France, it is a national team they have met the most times. Namely, Croatia and Denmark have played 18 times, with an even win-loss ratio – both teams have nine wins and nine losses, and they have never drawn. 

At the World Champs, Croatia and Denmark have met a handful of times.

In Portugal in 2003, on the road to the gold, Croatia celebrated 33:27 in a second-round match. Four years later, in Germany, Croatia won 28:26 in the second round in which Ivano Balić excelled with nine goals. In Sweden in 2011, in front of a packed Malmo Arena, Croatia lost 34:29. Kasper Sondergaard led Denmark with ten goals, and Mikkel Hansen scored nine goals. Croatia suffered an even heavier defeat in the 2013 semifinals. After seven consecutive wins, Denmark beat Croatia by 14 goals (34:20) and went on to the final. In the end, Croatia received the bronze medal, which is the last medal from the World Championship.

The two sides have met the most at the Euros, nine times, with four wins to Croatia and five to Denmark. You might remember the especially painful Euro 2008 final when Denmark won 24:20. 

But the European medal is just one of many in Denmark’s collection. Namely, they have won the second-most medals won in European Championship history, with a total of six – two gold (2008, 2012), one silver (2014), and three bronze medals (2002, 2004 & 2006). Only Spain has more.

And let’s not forget that as of January 2019, they are the reigning Olympic and World Champions. Denmark topped France in Rio and Norway at the World Championship hosted in Denmark and Germany two years ago. 

But when Croatia plays like we know they can, they are a force to be reckoned with, too. 

The Cowboys’ shaky World Championship campaign can be attributed to a few things. For starters, captain Domagoj Duvnjak and Luka Cindric had just played in the Champions League final before traveling to Egypt. If they weren’t already fatigued, Duvnjak also battled COVID-19 and Cindric an adductor injury, which sent him back home to Barcelona to recover. 

Furthermore, Igor Karacic and Luka Stepancic had to cancel their preparations with Croatia due to injuries, and Marin Sego and Manuel Strlek were still in the process of recovery. Recall, Sego didn’t return to the starting lineup until the 19th minute of the Qatar match, thus missing Croatia’s first two group stage matches against Japan and Angola. 

To make matters worse, several team members complained of stomach problems the day before Argentina, and Ivan Martinovic and Domagoj Duvnjak were in the worst condition. Martinovic missed training and tested for coronavirus as a precaution, but the result was negative. Other players felt weaker symptoms, which was undoubtedly concerning before the most crucial match of the tournament so far. 

Fortunately, two hours before yesterday’s match, the Croatian Handball Federation confirmed that everyone would be ready, though we failed to see that reflected on the court.

Croatia was mostly lost in the attack against Argentina, and the game went down as one of the worst in Croatian handball history.

Coach Lino Cervar even resigned from the bench afterward and said that Croatia must be led by someone else. Cervar’s harsh reaction came while Croatia still technically has a chance for the quarterfinals – and one Qatar player could be their hope. 

As mentioned before, Croatia is no longer dependent on itself and must rely on Qatar on Monday in the clash against Argentina.

Namely, reports that Qatar can also make it to the quarterfinals with a win against Argentina and a Croatia defeat against Denmark. 

Qatar will indeed play their best for a victory, especially since the team’s top player returned to the squad only yesterday after coming down with COVID-19. Rafel Capote scored nine goals in his first match at the tournament yesterday against Bahrain and showed that he is in great form and ready to overcome Argentina.

Capote is a great shooter, and in addition to the always unpleasant Saric in goal, Qatar has several serious players who can challenge Argentina. 

So, who will it be? Monday is D-Day. Tune in from 6 pm CET! 

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page


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