A physically-tough and emotionally-draining match between Croatia and Germany entertained right until the end for the 19,250 spectators inside the long sold-out LANXESS arena and many more millions watching on TV and online around the world.
The result means that the two teams which will progress from Group I are already confirmed – France and Germany, while Spain and Croatia now cannot qualify through to Hamburg.
Croatia vs Germany 21:22 (11:11)
The pressure on both teams ahead of this match-up between two of the world’s biggest handball nations was evident even before the opening whistle with players on both sides contemplating what lay ahead over the next 60 minutes during their national anthems through a mixture of nervous movements and quiet contemplation.
But Croatia got off to the better start with Igor Karacic opening the scoring, helping to keep the co-hosts out of their net for nearly four minutes, before Uwe Gensheimer, supplied by the eventual best player of the match Fabian Wiede, buried Germany’s first strike into the bottom of Marin Sego’s goal.
With Andreas Wolff doing his usual business in goal for the home side, Germany seemed to settle, but the flow of the game stopped dead when centre back Martin Strobel, attacking the Croatian goal, pivoted onto his left side, only to see his leg crumple under him. Tests later revealed an anterior cruciate ligament injury to his knee.
While the game stopped for nearly three minutes so the player could receive treatment and then be carried off, Germany set about drawing level, but they found it hard to get past the Croatian defence, led from the back by Sego.
With an opportunity to draw level in the 12th minute with a penalty, Gensheimer could only strike the post and when Croatia went in front by two (6:4), Germany coach Christian Prokop took his first time-out (13th minute).
The pause helped the home side as they came level in the 17th minute (7:7) and then went ahead soon after (21st minute). Now it was time for Croatia to take a time out and the teams battled it out evenly until the break (11:11).
The second half saw Germany go ahead 30 seconds in (12:11) through Fabian Bohm and they did not go behind until the 55th minute when Karacic’s industry on the German line saw him take three defenders out, setting up Jakov Vrankovic to power a 114km shot from distance into the net, putting Croatia ahead (19:18) and forcing a third German time out.
As the minutes counted down to the end Karacic again kept his side in front, managing to break open a hole in the active 5-1 German defence almost from a lying down spot, as Marin Sipic made it 20:19 with less than four minutes remaining.
But with a mixture of Silvio Heinevetter and then Andreas Wolff in goal, and three unanswered strikes, Prokop’s side went 22:20 up and within touching distance of a final four spot. Zlatko Horvat did break through to make the final seconds a nervy affair (22:21), and, as his Croatian side opened up their defence all over court, fighting to get the ball back and for their lives to keep their Hamburg hopes alive, it was not to be.
hummel Best Player of the Match: Fabian WIEDE (GER)
Christian PROKOP – Coach, Germany: We saw an intensive game, both teams played very hard and aggressive defence – a very good defence. I am very happy. Thank-you to this atmosphere and this experience.
Steffen WEINHOLD – Player, Germany: We are happy that we have reached the semi-finals. It was a tough match for us, and we didn’t have the best start today, we had to suffer a lot of two-minute suspensions and then we tried to fight in to the match, during the match it was very equal with good defence on both sides, it was very had to score for both teams and at the end we were the lucky ones to win. It was a really hard match and tough to fight against Croatia.
Zlatko HORVAT – Player, Croatia: I am very sad because we played very good, excellent and were fighting and Germany were too of course, I am very sad. I don’t know what to say now because I am too sad, sorry.
A reversal of fortunes from their last matchdays took place for Spain and Brazil this evening at the LANXESS arena in Cologne.
Both teams knew they had to win to keep their small chances of making the semi-finals alive, but in the end, the exertions of the South Americans in beating Croatia yesterday caught up with them as their former coach Jordi Ribera guided his Spain side, who lost to France on Saturday, to a 12-goal victory.
Spain vs Brazil 36:24 (19:13)
Ahead of this repeat of their 2017 world championship eighth-final clash, won by Spain (28:27), both teams were determined to give themselves the best chance of continuing to the semi-finals in Hamburg later this week but after the first quarter, and up by seven goals up already (10:3) thanks to five strikes from Ferran Sole Sala, the Europeans had worked hard enough to ensure the crucial points were in the bag early on.
Now they wait, and hope that Germany do not beat Croatia in the second main round match of the day in Cologne, but until then, they can reflect on a dominant performance against a visibly-tired Brazilian team.
A three-goal run from Washington Nunes Da Silva’s team in the 16th minute to reduce the deficit to four (10:6) inspired the packed crowd of 17,209 – waiting for the co-host nation to take the court later – to choose a side but even with the majority of fans inside supporting them, Brazil could not reach the levels of yesterday in that historic victory against Croatia.
Joan Canellas used the match to add to his collection of viral handball skills videos, most notably when looking along the tightly-packed and aggressive Brazilian defensive line for an opening but instead opting to shoot above them and from distance (12:6 – 20th minute) and less than 90 seconds later, his impressive fake shot and then hand-off to Raul Entrerrios to smash home (13:7 – 22nd minute).
During the half-time break, with Spain 19:13 up, IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa presented the Mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker with a special diploma in recognition of the crowd inside the LANXESS arena and the numbers of fans attending the matches with fair play shown by their support of all teams.
Canellas was also presented with something on court later - the best player award - following his performance, which saw him score a total of five goals.
And with goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales Rodal returning to the court in the second half, albeit for just 15 seconds, Spain cannot be in better shape whether it is with a chance of continuing at Germany/Denmark 2019, or fighting for an Olympic 2020 qualification spot.
hummel Best Player of the Match: Joan CANELLAS (ESP)
Statements after the match:
Jordi RIBERA – Coach, Spain: Brazil have had a really good tournament and knew that it would be a difficult game. We were making a really good game in defence and also with our goalkeeper. I am sure that the physical effect had an effect on this game. Sometimes rest days are for us and sometimes against us but we are really happy now and have to think about the game against Germany.
Washington NUNES DA SILVA – Coach, Brazil: It is always nice to meet Jordi and always a big pleasure to play against him. It was a very difficult game for us and tough to play, we lost, but nevertheless, it doesn’t take away from the world championship the guys are playing now.
The physical aspect of it was decisive today, we had a very good difficult game against Croatia yesterday and the players were tired which led to that result today. Our defence didn’t work today as well as it did in the last game, and we had difficulties to strike against the Spanish defensive system, This led to the Spanish counter attacks and you could see this in the high score difference in the end.
Defensively we played quite well but unfortunately it is hard to say as we lost by nine goals, but we did play defensively well.
Ferran SOLE SALA – Player, Spain: After two defeats it has been difficult for us, but we really enjoyed this match. We were very motivated as we knew these two points are important for the Olympic Games, and for the rest of the competition, and we knew that the goal difference was important.