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30/01/2016

Croatia and Norway vie for bronze and a ticket to France 2017

PREVIEW: While Croatia play for bronze at a major handball tournament for fifth time in four years, the match for third is somewhat unknown territory for Norway

  • Photo: Uros Hocevar / Sascha Klahn

While Spain and Germany are entering the final day of the EHF EURO 2016 on a high, Croatia and Norway have to quickly lick their wounds after their respective bitter semi-final defeats and get back on track for match for third place.

The line between success and failure is always at its finest in the bronze medal match, as one team gets a reward for all its efforts, while the other one is left empty-handed.

This time around there is also an extra bonus at stake, as the bronze medallists will also claim a direct berth at the World Championship 2017 in France.

In the past decade there has been no team that knows more about semi-final defeats than Croatia, who lost theirs on Friday for the third time in a row at EHF EURO level and for the fifth time at a major international event since 2012.

However, even though they had lost the respective semi-finals, Croatia more often than not recovered in time to win bronze.

They succeeded at the EHF EURO 2012, the Olympic Games 2012 and the World Championship 2013 – at the EHF EURO 2014 they lost against Spain.

The team of head coach Zeljko Babic now hopes that the spirit of 2012 and 2013 will return in time for the clash against Norway – a team they already met and lost to 31:34 in the preliminary round at this EHF EURO.

"We know how it works and we know how great it feels to be awarded with bronze medals. It is much better than fourth place. Each of us needs to give his best, to use his whole power that is left and to win against Norway who have played at superb level so far," Croatian right wing Ivan Cupic says.

“I do not know if we can surprise Norway with anything and Norway can surprise us. Both teams lost a lot of energy in the semi-final matches. We are tired both physically and mentally as they are. Defence will be the key. It is going to be a war and if we fight, the chance will be there.“

Croatian left wing Manuel Strlek also expect a tough run in the TAURON Arena in Krakow on Sunday.

"We will fight for that third place. There will not be many surprises. We have played them recently, we played them in the qualification. It will be difficult game, a battle until the very end.“

While Croatia have tasted success and disappointment in the third place matches they played in the previous decade, it is going a brand new lesson experience for Norway.

And their coach Christian Berge gives no importance to their preliminary round victory against Croatia.

“It’s a new game, a new match. We have everything to fight for. Croatia will also try to win the bronze medal and directly qualify for the World Championship. It’s a lot at stake tomorrow.”

While Croatia were knocked out by Spain in regular time in the semi-final, it required extra-time for Germany to end Norway's hope for the final.

"I'm mostly sad. We were so close...But we get to play for the bronze medal and for Norway it's a big deal. It won't be a problem to get excited for the game tomorrow. Bringing home a medal means a lot for us and we want to end the tournament with a victory," said centre back Christian O'Sullivan.

written by Vlado Brindzak / ts