Sport sometimes writes incredible stories: After the devastating 15:32 defeat against Spain in the opening match, the Czechs were shocked, but came back much stronger than ever expected to earn a place in EHF EURO 2018 Main Round Group II. After their sensational 28:27 victory against Olympic champions Denmark, Czech Republic took a 33:27 (15:11) win in the lion’s den on Wednesday night, despite loud and frenetic support from Hungary’s supporters.
Czech Republic’s superhero was Ondrej Zdrahala, who scored 14 goals, becoming the fifth player in EURO history to reach this tally – alongside his compatriot Filip Jicha. The record holder is Norwegian Kjetil Strand, with a tally of 19 goals versus Iceland in 2006.
"Even when I scored 14 goals, it has nothing to say, as we are one team. 15 others stand for me, I stand for them, there is only one word for our success: team!" said Zdrahala.
The Czechs made the last decision of preliminary round Group D in style, following Spain and Denmark to the next stage. Even a direct red card against their defence expert Leos Petrovsky in minute 28 did not stop Daniel Kubes and Jan Filip’s team. Czech Republic will take two points with them to the main round.
Boosted by some early goals from Mate Lekai (nine in total), the Hungarians had the better start – but knowing they needed to win by four to be sure of securing a place in the main round added enormous pressure.
As the match progressed, Hungary’s play became chaotic, while the Czechs continued where they left off against Denmark – thanks to the extremely strong back duo of Zdrahala and Stanislav Kasparek, backed by the saves of goalkeeper Martin Galia.
First, Czech Republic turned a 7:8 deficit into a 10:8 lead. Then they scored four unanswered goals for the 15:10 advantage, and not even a time-out from Hungary’s Swedish coach, Ljubomir Vranjes, could stop the downswing.
Though their fans still stood as one behind Hungary, and goalkeeper Roland Mikler put on a brilliant performance, they could not close the gap. The Czechs played with great concentration in defence and were patient in attack. Mostly, it was the outstanding Zdrahala that led Czech Republic to the win. His ninth goal for 19:13 was more than a hint as to how the match would end, though it was followed by four consecutive Hungarian goals.
After a time-out from Kubes and Filip, the Czechs recorded a triple strike within less than 70 seconds – but even then, Hungary did not give up. Lekai found his scoring rhythm again, and was key in his side reducing the gap goal by goal. When Lekai netted for the eighth time in minute 54, the distance had melted to only two, 25:27.
But instead of taking the chance on a counter attack goal, Hungary lost the ball – and who else but Zdrahala punished them with the decisive 28:25, from where they pulled ahead to the clear six-goal win.
"It was a well-deserved win for the Czechs. I am not satisfied with how we played today. We had some good moments, but we did not play to win. It was closer against Spain than today. We fought for the first 10 minutes, then they got the upper hand. After the break, we fought back, but then we gave too many balls to the Czechs. We were far away from the top level today," said Hungary coach Vranjes.