Croatia and France met on Friday night to open their Olympic qualifying campaign in Montpellier. Portugal and Tunisia are also in their group, and the two first-placed national teams will compete in Tokyo this summer.
Recall, after a desperate performance at the World Championship in January, Lino Červar left the Croatia national team bench and was replaced by Hrvoje Horvat.
Horvat took 20 players to Montpellier, though the official record can include 16. Horvat thus left goalkeeper Mate Šunjić, Ilija Brozović, Luka Šebetić, and Halil Jaganjac out of the lineup for this match.
The game against France was Horvat’s debut as the Croatia coach.
Croatia v. France Recap
Duvnjak scored the first goal of the game in the 4th minute for 1:0 Croatia. Cupic made it 2:0 for Croatia five minutes later for 2:1.
France took the lead for the first time in the match in the 11th minute – 2:3.
Cupic scored from a 7-meter throw in the 13th minute to equalize. Karacic made it 4:4 moments later and Cupic for 5:5 from 7 meters again.
Cindric gave Croatia the lead for 7:6 in the 17th minute. Martinovic scored for 8:7 two minutes later. Croatia was up by 2 goals thanks to Karacic in the 20th.
It was 10:7 for Croatia one minute later!
Karacic made it 11:8 in the 23rd, and it was 12:9 a minute after that. Martinovic made it 13:10 in the 25th – and Cindric for Croatia’s biggest lead of the game – 14:10 in the 27th!
Fifteen seconds before the half, Cupic scored for +4 (15:12).
Croatia opened the second half with a quick goal by Cupic for 16:12. Cindric nailed the goal in the 32nd minute for 17:12!
Cupic scored from 7-meters for 18:15 in the 37th minute and it was 19:15 one minute later.
Martinovic showed his class again for 20:16 in the 39th. France came back to -2 just two minutes later (20:18).
A stunner from Duvnjak made it 21:18. Martinovic scored again for 22:19 in the 43rd. Cupic scored for 23:20 one minute later.
Pesic and Sego were brilliant in goal for Croatia all game.
However, France started making their comeback and was behind by just one goal in the 47th minute. They equalized for 23:23 in the 49th.
Croatia failed to score with an extra player in the attack and France retook the lead for 23:24 in the 51st minute.
Cupic made it 24:24 moments later, and 25:25 from 7 meters with seven minutes left.
But France was up by two goals with just over five minutes left.
Cupic scored from 7 meters for 26:28 Croatia with three minutes to go. Strlek missed a one-on-one with the keeper moments later to keep France up by two goals.
The game ended 30:26 for France.
Croatia will play against Portugal tomorrow at 18:30, and against Tunisia at the same time on Sunday. Portugal beat Tunisia 34:27 in the first game and thus took the first step towards Tokyo.
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