Serbian side snapped a seven-game winless streak by winning against Iceland, 29:26, in their last Group A preliminary round match, but that was not enough for Jovica Cvetkovic's team to clinch the main round berth.
Serbia needed a four-goal win against Iceland to be sure of a main round berth, but they were down by three goals with 12 minutes to go and despite they had a chance to clinch a trip to Group I in Zagreb Petar Nenadic’s shot with one second to go was stopped by Bjorgvin Pall Gustavsson.
''We won but we are sad. We had the match under our control... I congratulate to my players for their devotion and leaving the heart on the field. We may leave the championship tonight, but we gained a lot for the future," Cvetkovic said.
Both sides will now face an arduous wait for the final whistle of the last game of the group, as Serbia will proceed only if Sweden do not lose against Croatia, Iceland on the contrary need any Croatian victory.
Iceland’s success in the EHF EURO 2018 has been predicated on their fast starts and by applying early pressure on their opponents. That was the recipe for the win against Sweden, with the 10:3 partial score to start the game.
That was not the case against Serbia. The Nordic side were far away from their usual approach, letting way to a sloppy, turnover-prone game, that saw Serbia take a 7:5 lead after ten minutes.
But it was captain Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson, the best scorer in the history of the EHF EURO, who took it upon himself to secure the main round berth for Iceland.
A six-goal first half from Sigurdsson inspired Iceland to make their comeback, as the Nordic side took the lead thanks to a 3:0 unanswered run, 10:9.
Ultimately, after coach Jovica Cvetkovic took a time-out, the Serbian side scored their first goal after seven minutes and kept the game in check, with a 12:12 deadlock at half time.
No joy on Serbian faces after winning
A 4:1 early run from Iceland saw Geir Svensson’s side jump to a 20:16 lead, as the Serbian defence struggled to stop their opponents.
However, a pair of superb Vladimir Cupara's saves, who stopped both Sigurdsson and Arnor Gunnarsson’s fast breaks, gave Serbia the boost they needed.
While many might had already written off the Serbian side, a 5:1 run powered by their sturdy defence and three consecutive goals from 19-year old back Milan Jovanovic handed Serbia their first lead of the second half, as they were leading 24:23 with eight minutes to go.
Calmer than ever, the Serbian side built their lead to three-goals, as the Icelandic side failed to score in the last three minutes and 45 seconds, only for their joy to be disrupted after Petar Nenadic’s last-gasp shot was saved by Gustavsson.
''It is hard because we probably will not continue in the competition. At one point we almost gave up because we thought there was no chance of winning this in the way we wanted. At the end, we had seven seconds to do it... Now, sadness remains," Cupara commented after the game.
''Congratulations to the winning team. We are not happy with the way we played today, we wanted more and arrived to the arena with different expectations. We cannot be happy with tonight's match but life goes on, I guess," Icelandic captain Sigurdsson said.