The last two matches of the fifth day at the 35th European Championships for men in Split didn’t produce a lot of excitement.
Spain and Croatia advanced to the final after games that were decided much before the end.
Spain beat Greece in one of the derbies of the day. Playing excellently in defense, Spain defeated the Greeks by four goals (9:5).
Croatia played against Georgia. The hosts didn’t leave any chance to the Georgians and beat them 15:5.
Spain will play against Hungary in the semifinals. It will be a replay of the 2020 European Championships final in Budapest where Hungary recorded a win after a penalty shootout. Croatia will play against Italy.
Earlier today, Hungary qualified for the semifinals beating Montenegro 11:8, Italy was better than Frrance 16:9.
All four teams that won top spots in the group stage advanced to the semifinals.
Spain – Greece 9:5 (4:2, 1:1, 2:1, 2:1)
The world champions dictated the pace from the first whistle. The Spaniards needed less than two minutes to take a 2:0 lead. The Greeks leveled at 2:2. However, at the finish of the first period, the Spaniards scored two quick back-to-back goals. They rebuilt a 2-goal advantage (4:2). Just two seconds before the first break, Greece earned a penalty shot. However, Unai Aguirre saved a shot from Stylianos Argyropoulos, and that was a new encouragement for the Spaniards before the second part of the game.
Both teams tightened their defenses in the second quarter. Famera gave Spain a 5:2 advantage. After that, Spain and Greece took care more about defense than offense. Goalies Aguirre (Spain) and Limarakis, were outstanding. The last goal in the first half was scored by Georgios Dervisis in the 14th minute, after Greece’s nice organized attack with a power play advantage.
The third period was very similar to the previous one. Defenses were up to the task. Goalies posted one save after another. Still, the Spaniards handled better in that defensive battle. They opened the third quarter with two goals (Perone and Munarriz). Midway through the third period, the world champions had a solid 4-goal advantage – 7:3. Still, a long way was still in front of them.
But, Greece didn’t come back. Spain controlled the match and maintained a four-goal difference until the end.
The statistics say that goals in 6 on 6 attacks made the difference. Spain scored four action goals (4/22), Greece only one (1/19). Besides, Spain scored once from a counterattack, and Greece didn’t.
The coaches’ and the players’ comments after the game don’t differ much to each other.
The defense made a difference in this game, Spain head coach David Martin said, and continued:
Our defense was perfect in all aspects, with a man down and in 6 on 6 attacks. Goalkeeper Unai Aguirre had an amazing performance. As for the attack, we have talented players. We can always score at least eight, or nine goals against any opponent, and with a defensive play like this, we will always have an opportunity to win. In the final, we will meet Hungary, which plays excellent here in Split. Their play against Serbia was perfect, they played very well against Montenegro today. They have a lot of talented players. I expect a very nice game and will try to take revenge for the 2020 final
Greece’s ace Stylianos Argyropoulos:
Spain was better today. They played great defense. It was Spain’s defense that blocked us. We missed many chances, including my penalty at the end of the first quarter. We won’t battle for a medal, but we are still motivated. There is always motivation when you play for the national team. We are going for 5th place. This is the best we can do right now. Of course, we are disappointed, but we must recover and play better in two days.
Croatia – Georgia 15:5 (4:0, 2:2, 6:1, 3:2)
Croatia was the heavy favorite. Georgia played without two important players – Fabio Baraldi and Jovan Saric, which made the hosts’ task easier.
The last quarterfinal duel was played in a fantastic atmosphere, in front of almost 9.000 spectators. Of course, most of them were Croatia fans. So, the home team had “an extra player” permanently.
The Croatian team didn’t disappoint their fans. They took a flying start, and earned a 4:0 lead in the first half.The Georgians halved the deficit after just three minutes of play in the second period (2:4). The second quarter was balanced. Georgia amaybe had more serious chances to score, but the hosts’ goalkeeper Marko Bijac continued proving his qualities.
At halftime, it stood 6:2. At the start of the third period, the teams quickly exchanged goals. Basic made it 7:2. Leftie Shushiashvili made it 3:7. But in the following minutes, Croatia produced a 5:0 run (meanwhile Bijac saved one penalty) and entered the final period with a comfortable 12:3 advantage. After that, only a winning margin was in question.. By the end, it increased to ten.
Loren Fatovic and Konstantin Kharkov led the hosts’ attack, with three goals each. Goalie Marko Bijac posted 12 saves in three quarters.
Ivica Tucak, Croatia’s head coach, said:
„We reached the semifinals and we achieved our primary goal at the tournament. Croatia remains in the circle of the best European and world teams and that is something we are proud of. We will play in the semifinals for the second time this year. But, we don’t want to stop here. We want to try to do something more in front of this fantastic audience. A hard opponent expect us. We know everything about Italy, they know everything about us. We have played several official and friendly matches in the last months and all games were close.
Cross-over round (September 4)
Match 1: Montenegro – Romania 13:8
Match 2: Georgia – Netherlands 12:8
Match 3: Greece – Israel 22:9
Match 4: France– Serbia 10:9
Quarterfinals (September 6)
QF1: Hungary – Montenegro 11:8
QF2: Croatia – Georgia 15:5
QF3: Spain – Greece 9:5
QF4: Italy – France 16:9
Semifinals: (September 8)
SF1: Hungary – Spain (19:00)
SF2: Croatia – Italy (20:30)
Finals (September 10)
Final: winner SF1 – winner SF2
Matches for classification 3rd – 8th
Semifinals 5th-8th place: Montenegro – Greece (14:00), Georgia – France (15:30).
9th-place match: Romania – Serbia (11:30)
11th-place match: Netherlands – Israel (10:00)