24/01/2020

80-minute thriller ends with Croatia earning final berth

SEMI-FINAL REVIEW: It took 80 minutes to decide a winner in the opening semi-final, with defensive specialist Zeljko Musa the hero for Croatia, as he secured a 29:28 win with a counter attack four seconds from time

Croatia celebrate an extraordinary match culminating in victory over Norway. Photo © Uros Hocevar / kolektiff

Almost 16,600 spectators in the Tele2 Arena witnessed a semi-final worthy of what was at stake, with the outcome decided through two periods of extra time, and a 29:28 result for Croatia that took the side to their third EHF EURO final in history.

After working hard to find answers for Croatia’s defence through the first period, Norway fought back for a thrilling end to the match, which saw the score at 23:23 as the full-time buzzer sounded. After 80 minutes, the first finalist was finally decided by a goal from Zeljko Musa, primarily a defensive specialist, who pulled Croatia in front four seconds before the end of the second overtime period.

  • Croatia end a 10-year wait to reach the EHF EURO final, which they last contested in 2010
  • Croatia now have the chance to secure their first European title, following their best result of second in 2008 and 2010
  • top scorer of the EHF EURO 2020, Norway’s Sander Sagosen, scores 10 to bring his overall tally to 61 – equal with Kiril Lazarov’s record for most goals scored in one edition
  • with eight goals for Croatia and a key role in defence, Domagoj Duvnjak earns the Grundfos Player of the Match award
  • Croatia now await their opponent for the trophy match, the winner of the Spain versus Slovenia semi-final. Norway will play the losing side in the 3/4 placement match

SEMI-FINAL 1

Norway vs Croatia 28:29 (26:26) (23:23) (10:12)

The opening semi-final at the EHF EURO 2020 came down to two periods of extra time, during which neither team could pull ahead by more than one goal – and ultimately it was Croatia who held the edge at the right moment.

At the end of the first overtime period, Norway goalkeeper Torbjoern Bergerud had the chance to repeat his huge save against Croatia in the semi-final at the 2017 World Championship, which sent the game into overtime and ultimately saw the Scandinavian side through to their first final in history. But Domagoj Duvnjak scored from the seven-metre line and a second period of extra time was needed. 

In the final 10 minutes, again, the score was still level with four seconds left. It was line player Zeljko Musa who secured the win for Croatia on a counter attack following a save from Marin Sego.

In regular time, after Norway came back from two goals behind at half-time, Croatia held on to the edge, always scoring first although Norway equalised multiple times. With just over two minutes remaining, goalkeeper Matej Asanin saved his second penalty to keep a one-goal edge for Croatia, 23:22.

He missed that penalty attempt, but Magnus Joendal did not fail when he stepped up on the next shot. The left wing brought the game level inside the last 30 seconds, and that was the last goal in regular time – so the match became the nail-biter it was until Musa’s strike.

The first half was all about Croatia’s defence and how Norway would beat it, before they found the attacking tactic that worked, as Eivind Tangen, Goeran Johannessen and Sander Sagosen combined as an effective trio in the second period. Thanks largely to their work, Norway came back from a deficit that had stood through the last 20 minutes of the half for the exciting second half and extra-time period to follow.

While Croatia switched between 5-1 and 6-0 in response to the Scandinavian side’s attacking formation, Norway gave their leading attacking star Sagosen different options to work with – with sometimes a full back court, and sometimes two line players that forced Croatia to drop back to flat defence.

The comeback from Norway was spurred by a surprising source – right back Tangen, who has previously played just over two hours in their seven matches at the EURO. With three of his four goals scored in the first 10 minutes of the second period, Tangen brought Norway to level at 15:15 with a 115km/h shot.

From that point, the score remained locked, through to Croatia’s decisive moment.

Croatian left back Igor Karacic said afterwards: “I have never experienced a match like that, those were 80 minutes of pure fight. Our team showed everything: character, discipline and power. I am simply proud."

written by Courtney Gahan / jh