13 goals from Zdrahala not enough for Czech Republic, as Croatians celebrate

5/6 PLACEMENT MATCH REVIEW: The hosts finish fifth after a 28:27 win against Czech Republic, but almost let the victory slip from their hands in the final minutes

EHF EURO 2018 top scorer Ondrej Zdrahala almost matched his tournament-high 14 goals in one game, but it was not enough to secure fifth place for Czech Republic. Photo: Uros Hocevar

Croatia gifted coach Lino Cervar with a close but deserved win in what could have been his last match at the head of the national team: The hosts finished the EHF EURO 2018 fifth after beating Czech Republic 28:27 (16:10) in the placement match. Though Croatia took the victory, the big star on court was Czech Republic back Ondrej Zdrahala, who added 13 more goals to his tally.

"I follow the Czech team since years and they are constantly going up, getting better and better in every game they played here. We deserved to win even without our best players Domagoj Duvnjak and Luka Cindric. Our concentration fell in the second half but still we won. In the first half, we really played good. Congratulation for the fifth position to my players," Croatia coach Lino cervar said.

As Zdrahala completed his EHF EURO 2018 campaign, he counted 56 strikes to his name and seems on the way to being named top scorer of the tournament on Sunday. His closest rival still on court in Croatia is Dane Mikkel Hansen, who would need 27 goals in two matches to draw equal with Zdrahala.

Like in 1996, the Czechs finish the EHF EURO in sixth position – equalling their best result.

Two wings and one goalkeeper were enough for the Croatians to shock the Czechs in the first 30 minutes. Six saves from Ivan Stevanovic (13 in the end, for him to be awarded best player of the match) combined with nine goals from Manuel Strlek and Zlatko Horvat – Croatia’s top scorer with 10 goals – had paved the way to what looked to be a sure win at the end of the first half. It was mainly Croatia’s counter attacks, from which they scored six goals on six attempts, that hit the Czechs extremely hard.

The only weapon Czech Republic had was EHF EURO top scorer Zdrahala, but he was not enough, as Croatia led 7:3 after only 10 minutes and forged ahead to a six-goal difference following Strlek’s double strike for 13:7. The same margin remained until the break, 16:10, and beyond.

The Croatians had full control of the match, while Zdrahala scored, scored and scored. The intermediate result of 22:17 in minute 42 was his 50th goal at the EHF EURO 2018. And yet, his hunger was not stilled.

While the Croatians decelerated with the clear advantage in mind, the Czechs somehow reduced the gap goal by goal. Three unanswered strikes for the 27:26 shook the hosts enormously.

When Horvat netted for 28:26 75 seconds before the final whistle, the hosts hoped that the deal was sealed – but Czech Milan Kotrc struck again. After a technical mistake from Croatia right back Luka Stepancic, Czech Republic even had the chance for the last attack. However, Stanislaw Kasparek missed the chance, and Croatia finished the event victorious.

written by Björn Pazen / cg