“The first half was far from ideal tonight. I do not know what happened, but it just did not go as we had previously planned,” said Igor Karacic, with the unrest clear to be seen on his face, as it was for the whole Croatia team after Iceland gave them a run for their money in the first 30 minutes of their second EHF EURO 2018 match.
But all’s well that ends well, and Croatia sneaked past Iceland, 29:22, to win a main round berth in spectacular fashion, with 11,000 noisy fans behind them cheering every single goal.
As difficult as the game looked in the first half, with Iceland and Croatia trading goals one for one, the second period was just as straightforward – especially the first 10 minutes. And it was a smart and sneaky move by experienced coach Lino Cervar that turned the game on its head.
“If you do not risk, you cannot win”
Cervar tore up the cautious game plan and improvised with a move that saw Iceland coach Geir Sveinsson take two time-outs in the space of only five minutes.
After the two Croatia goalkeepers recorded a save rate of just seven per cent in the first half, Cervar decided to go all in and took them out in attack, creating a seven-on-six advantage.
''It definitely brought freshness to our attack and a different tempo to the match. It proved to be a perfect idea and I think we surprised our opponent. We did not risk anything and used this play really well,'' said Croatia’s hero, Luka Cindric, who received the best player of the match award.
The decisive part of the game was a five-minute stint, during which all goals were scored using seven attacking players on the court, that saw Croatia run away with a 5:0 partial.
“It was all planned. In the dressing room, I was thinking what we could do so we could surprise them, because they were playing really good. If you do not risk, you cannot win,” said Cervar, whose credentials back him up: he usually employs this play for his club Metalurg.
The Vardar connection
Croatia’s 50th EHF EURO win came at the right moment, as the confidence in the hosts’ camp is now sky high. Fans are already comparing this team to the one that won the silver medal at the World Championship 2009, and are hoping for Croatia to take their first ever EHF EURO title.
But Luka Cindric, Croatia’s top scorer, with 11 goals in the first two games of the competition, is keeping his cool.
“Croatians dub that exceptional team the golden generation. I do not like to compare ourselves to them. We maybe have some attributes they did not have. But I think that we can only achieve our objective in this tournament as a team,” said Cindric.
The 24-year-old centre back is an integral part of a key attacking trio that includes Igor Karacic and Ivan Cupic. Between them, the three scored 13 of Croatia’s 29 goals against Iceland, and they know each other best as they all play for VELUX EHF Champions League title holders Vardar.
“It is easy for Cindric and me. We need a single second to understand each other and we know what we will be doing in the next action. The same is with Cupic, if the action includes him,” said Karacic.
“We probably use some tricks we know from Vardar. It helps us a lot in difficult times,” added Cindric.