His nickname is ‘His Majesty’, and on Sunday night in Arena Varazdin, Hans Lindberg put on a royal performance: The nine goals scored by the right wing, who was awarded best player, were the keys for the close, but deserved 26:25 (8:9) win for Denmark in their EHF EURO 2018 Main Round clash against current title holders Germany.
With six points in their account, the Olympic champions remain on course for the semi-finals, while the defending EHF EURO champions are close to elimination, as they stay on four points. Despite another brilliant performance from goalkeeper Andreas Wolff (11 saves) and six goals from Julius Kuhn, the chances for Germany to make it to the penultimate stage are quite limited after their first defeat at the EHF EURO 2018.
The opening half was extremely poor in goals, as both sides clearly focused on defence and goalkeeping – and were nervous and inefficient in attack. Germany needed seven attacks and 9:07 minutes to score their first goal, but as the Danes had netted only twice at that point, the 2016 champions quickly levelled the game.
Both goalkeepers – THW Kiel teammates Niklas Landin (DEN) and Wolff (GER) were on fire behind their defence. At the end of the first 15 minutes, the score stood at 3:3, and after the 6:5 lead, the Olympic champions missed two chances of scoring into the empty German goal in a row.
Thus, the defending EHF EURO champions turned the tide, taking their first advantage at 7:6, and even pulling ahead to 9:7. Kuhn was key in the intermediate result. The powerful left back rose like a phoenix after two weak performances against FYR Macedonia and Czech Republic.
Due to the weak attack on both sides, the 17 goals in the first 30 minutes was the lowest half-time score at the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia. At the break, Germany were ahead 9:8, and they managed to stop or even avoid the famous Danish counter attacks, keeping the Scandinavians from taking control early in the second half. During this period, Wolff clearly won the goalkeeper duel against Landin, and his Kiel teammate Steffen Weinhold was unstoppable.
The usual Danish back-court shooters Mikkel Hansen and Rasmus Lauge Schmidt were under the full control of Germany’s defence. In minute 44, Lauge scored his first goal, levelling the result at 16:16. But the Olympic champions could count on their most experienced player: Lindberg, who wears the jersey of German club Füchse Berlin, kept his team in the game.
Thanks to him, the match was on the edge, and the Danes took their first advantage after the break at 18:17, 12 minutes before the end. Now it was Germany’s turn to feel the pressure, as they fell behind 18:20 after an extraordinary save from Landin, running from the bench into the goal and providing his teammates with inspiration.
"The game was very tight all the way. It is always great to play with this atmosphere and you get carried away. I am glad the game finished with a victory for us. We were great in the first half, it ended with very few goals but in the second half Germany scored many goals, this shouldn't have happened," Landin commented after the game.
It was mainly Mikkel Hansen who soaked it up, hammering in two crucial goals, followed by another empty-goal strike from Casper Mortensen for the first three-goal advantage at 23:20. After Wolff netted a long-range shot for the intermediate 23:24, the Danes sealed the deal – and who else but Lindberg could have been the player of the match after the decisive double strike for 26:23, 80 seconds before the full-time buzzer.
"Overall we played a good game, especially in the first half. The key to this game were our mistakes during the middle part of the second half where Denmark scored some easy goals. One or two mistakes decided this game."