For the fifth time in Men’s EHF EURO history, Spain have made it to the final. On Friday night, coach Jordi Ribera’s team ended France’s dreams and their series of six wins in six matches at the EHF EURO 2018. For 44 minutes, the Spaniards were in full control, before France came closer after the clear intermediate result of 23:14. In the end, time ticked too fast against the current world champions, and they had to settle for a 27:23 (15:9) loss.
Spain were steered by impressive centre back Raul Entrerrios, who scored six goals and was awarded best player of the match. Ferran Sole netted one more goal than his captain, while France’s FC Barcelona line player Cedric Sorhaindo top scored for his side with six goals at 100 per cent.
''We entered the match against France with respect, as with every other rival we had played against. We knew we had to believe in our play and ourselves," said Entrerrios.
Both teams’ upcoming opponents will be decided in the second semi-final, Denmark versus Sweden. On Sunday, Spain hope to end their curse, which has seen them lose all four EHF EURO Finals they have contested.
France had unusually large gaps in their defence before the break and were also quite weak in attack. Spain were consistently ahead from minute three, except for the momentary level score of 8:8. While France’s attacking tactics focused on line player Cedric Sorhaindo, the Spaniards profited from their back-court axis led by Eduardo Gurbindo and Raul Entrerrios, as well as Ferran Sole’s efficiency from the penalty line. The right wing scored all four of his attempts before the break, and a total of six.
In contrast, in the first half alone, France failed twice against the goalkeeper who had arrived in Croatia only one day before the semi-final: Arpad Sterbik. First, it was Kentin Mahe, then Michael Guigou, who could not beat 38-year-old Sterbik, who replaced injured Gonzalo Perez de Vargas.
After the 8:8, Spain scored an impressive series of 7:1 goals, in a period where France’s only strike came from Raphael Caucheteux on a penalty shot. The weak attacking performance from the defending world champions was underlined by the last attack of the first half, when they caused an uncharacteristic turnover eight seconds before the buzzer (15:9).
Nothing changed in the initial period of the second half. France had enormous problems breaking through Spain’s defence, while their opponents functioned like Swiss clockwork, with barely any mistakes. France seemed to resign early, as they were punished by a double strike from Entrerrios, 18:12.
As Corrales was on a much higher level than his French counterparts Vincent Gerard and Cyril Dumoulin, the margin rose to eight goals at 21:13 in minute 42, after Sole had netted his sixth penalty goal. Sterbik remained a nightmare for France as he saved his third penalty, this time against Caucheteux – and the distance grew to 23:14.
"I got those penalty shots because they don't require much jumping and if I had to play the whole game I don't think I could handle it. Rodrigo did an amazing job during the game. Now it is time to rest and see if we can repeat it again in the finals," Sterbik said.
However, Spain suddenly lost their rhythm completely, Dumoulin improved and France scored a series of easy goals. Even a time-out called by Spain coach Jordi Ribera did not change anything. The ‘Hispanos’ could not score for nearly eight minutes, while France recorded a 6:0 series to come within reach at 20:23.
But Spain managed to escape, though Valero Rivera missed the chance to seal the deal on a penalty with five minutes left (24:20 to Spain). The previously one-sided match had turned into a thriller. Again, Dumoulin saved a penalty, this time off Daniel Sarmiento, but in the next attack, Julen Aguinagalde finally decided the match as he scored the 26:22.
"We knew that the game against Spain will be hard. They played in their slow rhythm, they played every attack 2-3 minutes and that didn't work for us. We were trying to play faster and steal some balls but we didn't make it. In the first half they had already big advantage and in the second half it wasn't enough time to do something,“ said Luka Karabatic.