France continued on their high at the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia, beating Belarus 32:25 (14:11) in Porec to keep their clean record and travel to Zagreb as winners of Group B. The fate of Belarus, who remain on two points, is yet to be sealed. The final group match, Norway versus Austria, will decide whether Belarus proceed to the main round or not.
Belarus could have been equal at the break, if they had not missed all three of their penalty shots – all of which were saved by an again outstanding France goalkeeper Vincent Gerard, who made nine of his in 15 saves before the half-time whistle.
The Belarusian side had an impressive start, though the world champions – in contrast with the match against Austria – started with their top stars, such as Nikola Karabatic, Cedric Sorhaindo and Michael Guigou. Left wing Guigou’s strike for 6:5 was his 125th goal at EHF EURO final tournaments.
Belarus profited from France’s tactic of replacing Gerard during one-man disadvantages, scoring twice during a two-minute suspension for Karabatic to suddenly pull ahead to 9:7 – also thanks to a strong performance from their goalkeeper Viachaslau Saldatsenka.
"We were very motivated and played well in the beginning, France did not expect us to be so strong, I guess. But as we did not defend well in the beginning of the second half, we had no chance, as France played a very stable game," said centre back Aliaksandr Padshyvalau, who finished as Belarus' top scorer with six goals.
France coach Didier Dinart had seen enough – and a time-out called by the former national player changed it all: France easily took the lead as Gerard shut up his shop, allowing Belarus to score only twice in the final 13 minutes of the first half. On the other hand, 20-year-old Dika Mem was unstoppable from the back court, netting four times in the first half for a tally of nine, which placed him as top scorer of the match.
France pushed hard for an early decision – and were successful: 11 minutes into the second half, they had extended the margin to 21:15, forcing Belarus coach Iouri Chevtsov to use his time-out card. But the deal was sealed, France stormed over Belarus with counter-attack goals executed by Valentin Porte or Mem. Current World Player of the Year Karabatic was another asset, netting six times and receiving the best player of the match award.
When they held a comfortable lead of 26:19, France decelerated and gave Belarus the opportunity to reduce the gap – but the victory was never in danger.
"Belarus put pressure on us, we had problems in the beginning. This match showed again that there are no weak teams at an EHF EURO. There is an equal balance between all teams," said France coach Dinart. "My players did their best to reach the next round with the optimum of four points."