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Croatia claim bronze and the ticket to France 2017

REVIEW: After a four-year absence, Croatia made it to the EHF EURO podium again, beating Norway 31:24 in the bronze medal match

Photo: Uros Hocevar

Zlatko Horvat scored eight goals and Ivan Stevanovic added several crucial saves late in the second half as Croatia beat Norway 31:24 (15:11) in a very physical bronze medal match in Krakow's TAURON Arena on Sunday.

With the win they not only added another bronze to the men's national team's records but also booked a direct ticket to the World Championship 2017 in France.

For Croatia it was their third bronze (after 1994 and 2012) and in total their fifth medal (they won silver in 2008 and 2012) in EHF EURO history.

"I am very happy to win this medal. After the defeat against France nobody believed in us, then we produced a miracle and today we got the bronze medal," said Manuel Strlek.

"This one of the best moments in my handball life. We were mentally strong and played for each other. Thanks to all the fans, who supported us."

Croatia's Domagoj Duvnjak was awarded best player of the match.

Norway, who were led by the tournament's all-star centre back Sander Sagosen with five goals, failed to get their maiden European Championship medal, but they still achieved a record placement, bettering the 6th place they had reached in 2008.

"We are of course very disappointed, but we are still proud of ourselves and our country for taking the next step," said Magnus Gullerud.

“We didn't dream of this before the championship began, which makes it a surprise. We are very happy to have come so far.”

As fourth ranked team at the EHF EURO 2016, Norway will face Slovenia in the play-offs for a spot at the World Championship 2017 in France. The draw for these matches had taken place in Krakow just before the bronze medal match.

Exactly two weeks after Norway's 34:31 win in the preliminary round against Croatia, both teams met again – but this time much more was at stake.

Disappointed by their narrow semi-final defeats but eager not to leave Poland 2016 empty-handed, both teams started the game neck-to-neck with goals being scored evenly on both ends of the court.

It was only after 15 minutes that Croatia were able to take advantage of their strongest weapon, fast breaks, when goalkeeper Ivan Stevanovic made a handful of crucial saves and the Norwegian players were to slow to return back to defence.

Despite losing their captain Marko Kopljar due to a knee injury early in the game, the team of Zeljko Babic charged ahead to a 9:6 lead, and when Kresimir Kozina jumped into the goal area to convert a ball that Norway's Ole Erevik had just saved, Norway had to use their first timeout.

However, it remained without immediate effect, as Manuel Strlek, who had been announced all-star left wing earlier on Sunday, gave Croatia a five-goal lead, but Norway remained far away from rolling over.

In contrast to the team's game in the preliminary round, Croatia were able to protect a four-goal lead until the break, but when the match started again, Norway stepped into gear and after 40 minutes of play they had levelled at 17:17.

Croatia then took the lead again, thanks to numerous Erevik saves Norway remained in the game and trailed only by one or two goals.

Ten minutes before the end Croatia's defence specialist Jakov Gojun was red carded following his third two-minute suspension, but goalkeeper Stevanovic denied a penalty throw of Magnus Jondal, added a few more crucial saves and helped his team to romp to another five-goal lead at 26:21

This happened with just six minutes until the end and eventually broke Norway's resistance.

written by Vlado Brindzak / ts