Spain have beaten Russia and clinched the berth for the EHF EURO 2016 Semi-final. On Friday they will face Croatia in Krakow.
Germany and Norway are the opponents in the second semi-final, after one of the most thrilling days in EHF EURO history came to an end on Wednesday night.
Beating Russia 25:23 (11:12) did not only propel Spain to the top of Main Round Group 2, but also minimised the Russian hopes for a ticket to the Olympic Qualification Tournament – only if Norway win the EHF EURO would Russia still score a qualification spot.
With three points on their account, Russia finished ranked fifth in Group 2, behind fourth-ranked Sweden, who have four points on their account and a berth in one of the Olympic Qualification Tournaments.
Sweden will play the 7/8 placement match against Poland in Wroclaw on Friday.
“In terms of all the problems we had faced in the preparation, our players were fantastic, though we lost," said Russia captain Timur Dibirov. "The Spanish side was our most difficult opponent so far and they deserve to be part of the semi-final.”
Because of the Spanish win, Denmark missed the semi-final and will play the 5/6 placement match against France in Wroclaw also on Friday.
Spain were shocked by the Russian kickstart to the game, were not able to score for six minutes and saw themselves trailing 0:3 after seven minutes of play.
But when they eventually woke up, they started their engines in turbo-mode, scored four in a row and suddenly led.
But Russia refused to give up. They closed their gaps in defence, allowing Spain almost only to score from penalty shots until the break - and Valero Rivera scored three of four from the seven-metre line - as his team trailed 11:12 and showed unexpected weaknesses in their man-to-man defence.
As top scorer Rivera (eleven goals) continued to show nerves of steel from the penalty line and goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik saved brilliantly despite an adductor injury, Spain had the betterstart to the second half.
Their defence stood stronger now, while Russia lacked ideas and passion in attack.
When Victor Tomas netted at 17:14 in the 39th minute, Russian coach Dimitri Torgovanov took a timeout to get his team back on track and change the fact that his team had scored only twice from eight attempts in the second half.
But nothing changed. When Rivera scored his 10th goal at 23:18 with 11 minutes left the match was decided.
And even though the Russians reduced the gap goal by goal they were unable to change the game in their favour.
“Russia started well, and we had difficulties finding our rhythm. But when we advanced to a three, four-goal lead in the second half, we had decided the match and now we are happy to be in the semi-final,” said Spain coach Manuel Cadenas.