The defending world and Olympic champions will clash in a rematch of the Rio 2016 Final – but not in a fight for the EHF EURO trophy; instead, they will battle for the bronze medal at 18:00 local time in Zagreb on Sunday evening.
Many experts had predicted the duel between France and Denmark as the great final of the EHF EURO 2018, but after losses in the semi-finals, these sides will meet in the 3/4 match (streamed live on ehfTV). 17 months after Denmark took their first Olympic gold medal by beating favoured France 28:26 in the final, one of the powerhouses will be left without silverware when the final whistle sounds on Sunday.
It is the third straight time these teams lock horns on the final weekend of an EHF EURO event. In 2014, France defeated the Danes 41:32 in the final in Herning to take their third trophy. Two years later, France won the 5/6 placement match 29:26 in Poland. Once before, this pairing met in a bronze-medal match, with Denmark taking the medal in Cologne at the World Championship 2007.
“It is all a matter of the head”
France have claimed the EHF EURO bronze once before, in Norway in 2008, while Denmark had a European ‘bronze series’ from 2002 until 2006, with three wins in the 3/4 match. On Friday, world champions France (23:27 against Spain) and Olympic champions Denmark (34:35 against Sweden after extra time) lost their semis in what was something of a sensation.
Players from both sides are aware that the recovery from those defeats will be crucial to the outcome on Sunday: “How both sides can cope with that fact is important. It is all a matter of the head, and then mental stability,” says Denmark centre back Rasmus Lauge.
Lauge will face his SG Flensburg-Handewitt teammate Kentin Mahe, who agrees that psychology will be key: “Many Danish and many French players have never lost a semi-final at a major tournament, so those defeats were new ground. In Rio, both sides knew before the match that they would win a medal. Now only one team will get some silverware. Nobody wants to return home with the ‘chocolate medals’, because this means you go home frustrated.”
Alongside German club Flensburg, Paris Saint-Germain will be represented in both line-ups: Two Danes, Mikkel Hansen and Henrik Mollgaard, against four French: the Karabatic brothers Nikola and Luka, Nedim Remili and Luc Abalo.
As these sides meet regularly in Golden League matches, where the Danes have been the victors twice in the last two duels, no surprises are expected: “They know us, we know them. We played so many matches against them, so there is nothing to surprise and to get surprised. Both teams have huge and equal quality on court,” says Denmark right back Michael Damgaard.