Denmark cheated the gallows and avoided starting the EHF EURO 2018 Main Round on zero points, as they wrapped up Group D in Varazdin with a 25:22 victory over Spain on Wednesday night. Following Czech Republic’s win against Hungary in the earlier match, three teams from this group finish on four points, and each take two with them to the main round, with Spain ranked first ahead of Denmark, and finally Czech Republic.
It was not one of the big names in the Denmark team that was awarded best player of the match, but one who joined the team today as replacement for Anders Zachariassen: Peter Balling Christensen. The right back netted eight times and was Denmark’s most dangerous weapon, alongside Mikkel Hansen (six goals) and goalkeeper Jannick Green (10 saves). Spain’s top scorer was Alex Dujshebaev, with six goals.
"We played strong and had well-organised defence for 60 minutes. Besides, Jannick Green saved in an incredible way in the second half, and in attack we found good solutions against one of the best defences in the world," said Denmark coach Nikolaj Jacobsen, before commenting on Balling Christensen's performance:
"He played an incredible match – simply great, how he coped with pressure. Peter is a fast player, who worked ideally against Spain's aggressive defence with his speed. Sometimes, you have to be lucky as a coach, when you select a player."
Anyone who thought the duel of world-class goalkeepers, Niklas Landin Jacobsen (DEN) and Gonazalo Perez de Vargas (ESP), would be the crucial factor was wrong. In the first half, both recorded just four saves each. While Landin was replaced by Green before the break, Perez de Vargas improved in the second period.
After their surprising defeat against the Czechs, the Danes were extremely motivated in the rematch of the World Championship 2013 Final – which they lost clearly. Backed by the highly efficient back-court shooters Hansen and Balling Christensen, Denmark pulled ahead to their first four-goal advantage at 12:8.
But then, Alex Dujshebaev started his engine. With three of the last four goals for Spain before the break, the Vive Kielce right back was the reason the EHF EURO 2016 silver medallists found themselves back on track, reaching the half-time score of 13:14 – which was immediately followed by Dujshebaev’s equaliser when the match resumed.
This was the wake-up call for the Danes – and it worked. A triple strike in attack and strong defence paved the way for the victory in the early stages of the second half. Balling was on fire, adding goal after goal to his tally, and Green was also there when it counted.
Though Perez de Vargas improved and finished on 12 saves, Green was far more important in Denmark’s game. When Balling, Rene Toft Hansen and Mikkel Hansen scored a 3:0 series for 25:20 four minutes before the end, Denmark entered the semi-final race.
"We lost our advantage for the main round today," said Alex Dujshebaev. "Denmark were maybe better than us in the most important moments. We did not have the luck in those situations. Now we need to win matches to make it to the semis."