Spain take semi-final ticket and revenge for 2016 final defeat

GROUP II REVIEW: 12 incredible weak minutes after the break stop Germany on their way to Zagreb, as the Spaniards take an easy 31:27 victory to book a semi-final meeting with France

Spain knocked defending champions Germany out of the title race in a match decided long before the final whistle. Photo: Nebojsa Tejic

It was the do-or-die match for the last EHF EURO 2018 Semi-final ticket available in Varazdin – and all expected a close and thrilling encounter in the rematch of the 2016 final between Spain and Germany. But Germany beat themselves with 12 horrible minutes, during which Spain recorded an 8:0 series. Before and after Germany’s scoreless period, the match was quite close, but the 31:27 (14:13) victory was confirmed quite early.

"It was a very difficult game with a lot of tactics on both sides. In the second half, it was crucial when we forged ahead from 15:15 to 23:15. We were adapted on nearly all German tactics and, therefore, we controlled the whole match," said Spain coach Jordi Ribera. "We had two tough games in 24 hours. Now we have to recover as fast as possible."

Spain will face world champions France in their eighth – and fourth consecutive – EHF EURO Semi-final in Zagreb on Friday, while Group II winners will Denmark lock horns with Sweden. Before the semi-finals, third-ranked Czech Republic will duel with hosts Croatia in the 5/6 placement match.

Both sides knew that defence would be the key to victory – and in the first half, the Spanish wall was much more solid. In addition, the overall save percentage for goalkeepers Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Rodrigo Corrales (39 per cent) was better than Silvio Heinevetter and Andreas Wolff (31 per cent) – the hero in the EHF EURO 2016 Final against Spain.

While the Germans scored several long-range shots courtesy of Julius Kuhn and Philipp Weber, Spain profited from the superb cooperation between centre back Raul Entrerrios and line player Julen Aguinagalde, who scored all four of his attempts before the break. Both sides barely used counter attacks, which both coaches had announced as the most likely weapon before the match.

Spain played extremely patient positional attack, while Germany missed too many chances, but were only one goal down at the break (13:14). Without Paul Drux, who returned home after he tore his meniscus in the previous match, against Denmark, Germany lacked an important attacking alternative.

After the break, the match became chaotic, as both sides made an unexpectedly high number of technical mistakes and recorded many turnovers in attack. But still, Spain maintained the upper hand. It was mainly their right wings Ferran Sole (five goals), the penalty expert, and David Balaguer (six goals, awarded best player of the match), who took the responsibility in the second half.

Crunch time started in minute 34: After Kai Hafner levelled the result at 15:15, the Germans made an incredible number of mistakes in attack. Within 12 minutes, Spain scored eight unanswered goals – including three strikes into the empty German goal in 70 seconds – and the deal was sealed at 23:15. Prokop took two time-outs, but his side had lost their rhythm, confidence – simply everything.

When all was said and done, the Germans came back to a normal level; even ‘won’ the last 15 minutes 12:8 – but it was too late to turn the match around. The defending champions finish the EHF EURO 2018 ninth.

"It was well-deserved win for Spain. We are really disappointed that we did not grab this opportunity. It was a crazy main round with many different, constantly changing constellations. Finally, we had the chance to make it to the semis. It was a tight game except 10 minutes, when Spain closed the match with a 8:0 run. In this period, we caused too many technical faults, but we also have to give the credit to the Spanish defence. They played strong and forced us to make many of our mistakes," said Germany left wing Uwe Gensheimer. 

written by Björn Pazen / cg