Spain have reached the final of a Men's EHF EURO for the first time since 2006 and for the fourth time overall.
Thanks to a hard-earned 33:29 (18:14) win against Croatia in yet another thrilling semi-final in Krakow, Spain will fight for gold against Germany on Sunday.*
Both teams already met at this EHF EURO in their preliminary round opener in Wroclaw, with Spain winning 32:29.
“I don't have words, it is my 8th year with the Spanish team and it is my first final, we lost 4 or 5 semifinals and now I am so excited and so happy that I have no words," said Spain's left wing Cristian Ugalde.
Croatia will face Norway in the match for bronze on Sunday – a medal the Croatians already won in 1994 and 2012.
At the EHF EURO 2014, Croatia had lost the match for third place against Spain – so two years later they missed the chance for revenge and will remain without an EHF EURO title for at least for another two years when they host the final tournament in 2018.
Best scorers in a brilliant battle were Ivan Sliskovic (Croatia) as well as Valero Rivera and Antonio Garcia with six goals each. Rivera currently tops the scorer ranking with 47 goals, ahead of Germany's Tobias Reichmann who scored 43 times to date.
"Germany are the surprise of the tournament together with the Norwegian team. They are playing amazing defence and (Andreas) Wolff is getting to a high level and showing everyone he is one of the best keepers here. We are going to try hard, it's a final! They are a young team, we are older, but we have more experience too!" said Spain's Viran Morros.
Croatia started the game in 'express mode', punishing every Spanish turnover with counter attack goals.
Spain coach Manuel Cadenas took the first timeout after only five minutes when his team was trailing 1:4 – nothing really changed though and after 22 minutes of play Croatia still led 13:10.
But what happened then, was simply incredible to watch. Spurred on by Rivera, Christian Ugalde and line player Julen Aguinagalde Spain fought back.
Croatia lost their rhythm completely, almost missing all their chances, and even a timeout taken by head coach Zeljko Babic did not stop the downswing.
Spain levelled at 13:13 and then finished an extraordinary 8:1 series to go into the dressing rooms leading 18:14.
The momentum had changed completely, and hundreds of Croatian fans in the TAURON arena did not believe their eyes.
At the beginning of the second half Croatia tried hard to get back into the game; they strengthened their defence – very much like they had done in their 37:23 win against Poland on Wednesday – and suddenly Spian had enormous problems scoring more goals.
"We gave everything and fought to the end of the match, but Spain was better today. Of course we gave a lot during our match against Poland but when you play a semi-final you find the power and the strenghth to fight," Manuel Strlek said.
In the 46th minute Croatia had almost levelled the game as they only trailed 23:24 and 25:26 in the 52nd minute, and their wing players Manuel Strlek and Zlatko Horvat kept their hopes alive by scoring goal after goal – but another Spanish timeout was taken just at the right time for Cadenas' team.
Within three minutes from the 52nd to the 55th, Spain decided the game in their favour.
Two double strikes, one by Rivera, one by Victor Tomas extended the lead to 30:26.
And eventually it was Tomas once more, who scored with an incredible spin for 32:28 with three minutes left on the clock, who made the Spanish players dance of you courtside and sent Croatia into despair.
* The Norwegian delegation has lodged a protest with the EHF following their semi-final match with Germany on Friday, 29 January 2016. Following the confirmation that a protest will be made, the Norwegian team has until 09:00hrs to give reasons for the protest in writing. A decision will be made by the EHF EURO 2016 Disciplinary Commission by 12:00 hrs on Saturday, 30 January 2016.