Croatia and France played a decisive match to fight for the semi-finals of the European Championship.
In a dramatic final match of the second round in Zagreb, the Croatia men’s handball team fought for a place in the semi-finals against their eternal rivals, France, who already secured a place in the semis after Norway’s win against Sweden.
Croatia and France had so far played one another 22 times in major competitions. The statistics are remarkable for France, who celebrated 13 wins. Croatia claimed the victory only eight times, while one match ended in a draw.
The great rivalry of Croatia and France, which many people call the ‘El Clasico’ of handball, began in 1994 in Portugal at the European Championship. Then, in Almada, France defeated Croatia 27:25. Perhaps the most significant match and defeat of Croatia came in 2009 in the World Cup finals, which Croatia hosted. At the Zagreb Arena, France destroyed the dreams of the Croatia national team, defeating them 24:19, reported Gol.hr on January 24, 2018.
In front of an incredibly loud atmosphere at Zagreb Arena, the two rivals would meet again for the final match of the second round of the Euros.
The first attack of the game resulted without a goal, and it wasn’t until the third minute that Cindrić and Štrlek put Croatia in the lead for 2:1. By the sixth minute, France took the lead with a goal by Mem (4:3).
In the ninth minute, Mamić helped Croatia equalize after France was up by 2. The game was now 5:5.
In the 12th minute, Štrlek returned the lead to Croatia for 7:6, and in the 15th minute, France retook the lead for 8:7. Croatia then called a timeout.
Two minutes after the timeout, France’s Guigou helped bring them in the lead by 3 (10:7) after mistakes were made in Croatia’s attack.
In the 18th minute, Čupić lessened the score gap by one point, bringing Croatia behind only by two (8:10), but by the 23rd minute, France’s Remili countered for a 14:10 France lead. Three minutes later, it was Štrlek who was able to strengthen Croatia’s score, and France only led by three (12:15).
An uncomfortable 18:12 lead for France two minutes before halftime, it was 19:13 for France at the half.
The second half fared better for Croatia, and by the 32nd minute, Mamić scored for Croatia to bring Croatia’s score to 14:19. By the 34th minute, Croatia was only behind by five.
With Croatian fans beginning to get their hopes up, the 41st minute saw Čupić score for 18:23, and by the 46th minute, Croatia was behind by five ((20:25).
Croatia crept up to France in the 49th minute, lessening the gap to 22:25, and in the 52nd minute, Croatia was only behind by two!
Just a one point difference in the 53rd minute with the help of Cindrić (25:26), it seemed like Croatia could come back to win it. But after France led by two points in the 58th (27:29), would the home team be able to secure the victory?
With just one minute to go, France led by three – and Croatia called a crucial timeout. With 30 seconds to go, Croatia was down by three.
It was France to take the win and a place in the semis (30:27). Croatia can now play for fifth place in the European Championship.