Goalkeeper Tomas Mrkva was the hero for Czech Republic on Tuesday night – and could even end up being the key to a semi-final ticket. As Mrkva saved a penalty off Dejan Manaskov with the final buzzer, his side took an important 25:24 (11:13) win against FYR Macedonia.
"We have now quite a history with them, we played many games against each other. Luckily this game went to our side, we were luckier, but also deserved this victory," said Mrkva.
With this result, Denmark became the first semi-finalists at the EHF EURO 2018 and the Macedonians were knocked out of the semi-final race. The remaining four teams – Germany, Spain, Slovenia and Czech Republic – will fight for Group II’s open semi-final spot on Wednesday. Before the last match day, the Danes top the Group II ranking with six points, ahead of Czech Republic, Germany and Spain (four each), and Slovenia and FYR Macedonia (three each).
The biggest sensation of the FYR Macedonia versus Czech Republic match was the comeback of Kiril Lazarov. The Macedonians had announced that their superstar was out of the EHF EURO after his thigh injury during the game against Spain, but then something like a miracle occurred.
Lazarov warmed up with the team – and even entered the court to score for the 6:2 off a penalty. The red and yellow wall of Macedonian fans in Arena Varazdin shouted “Kiril Lazarov”, knowing that only his presence would boost the team.
Another key for the consistent lead held by FYR Macedonia was the performance of goalkeeper Borko Ristovksi, who saved a total of 11 shots – seven of them before the break. Still, the Czechs managed to reduce the gap to only two goals at half-time, with Pavel Horak (awarded best player of the match after eight strikes) keeping them in the match thanks to his four goals in the first 30 minutes.
When the match resumed, it was once again the Macedonians who had the better start, to the delight of their fans. When Filip Taleski hammered a long-range shot into the net, coach Raul Gonzalez’s team seemed to be on the path to a win, with a 17:12 lead.
But the Czechs showed morale and fighting spirit, while the Macedonians were obviously running out of power. Goalkeeper Mrkva saved many shots, backs Stanislav Kasparek and Ondrej Zdrahala were unstoppable – and suddenly the huge Macedonian advantage was gone, when Jakub Hrstka scored for the 22:22 from the penalty line.
Lazarov became a tragic figure, as he failed on a penalty shot against Mrkva with the score at 23:23 – paving the way for the first Czech lead, when Horak netted for 25:24 in minute 57. The previously one-sided match had turned into a thriller.
When Stojanche Stoilov made a technical mistake 33 seconds before the end, the Macedonians seemed to be defeated. After a time-out, the Czechs recorded a turnover six seconds before the end, offering the Macedonians the chance for a last attack. Dejan Manaskov was fouled with the final buzzer, and a penalty was awarded for the Balkan side. Manaskov himself took the ball and failed against Mrkva.
"It think it is obvious that this was caused by our inexperience. We could have done much more, we could have played much better but we didn't. We gave our all but it just wasn't good enough. We didn't expect this, we wanted to win this game, we wanted to be better," Macedonian goalkeeper Borko Ristovski said.