Both Croatia and Belarus had won their opening matches, so the winner of their clash in Graz was going to take the top position in group A.
Croatia had never lost a competitive match against Belarus, and the Balkan side had won all four of their previous encounters at EHF EUROs. Now Lino Cervar’s team extended that perfect record, claiming a 31:23 victory and making a big step towards the main round.
- Croatia lead group A with four points; Belarus are on two points
- Croatia’s Igor Karacic was his team’s top scorer with six goals and player of the match
- Mikita Vailupau netted eight times for Belarus
- Croatia may secure the main round spot later tonight if Serbia do not beat Montenegro
- on Monday, Croatia will meet Serbia, while Belarus will face Montenegro in their last group matches
Croatia vs Belarus 31:23 (15:10)
Mikita Vailupau, who plays his first major tournament with Belarus, became the top scorer of the match, yet his eight goals were not enough to secure a win.
Domagoj Duvnjak was the player of the match for Croatia against Montenegro mostly for his defensive work, but this time, he showed his fire power early as his three goals helped Croatia take a 7:2 lead.
The Belarusian coach Iouri Chevtsov reacted by replacing goalkeeper Viachaslau Saldatsenka, a hero of the previous game against Serbia, with Ivan Matskevich.
Matskevich’s string of saves, combined by a series of goals by his HC Meshkov Brest teammates, wing players Vailupau and Andrei Yurynok, helped Belarus to almost draw level at 8:7.
Yet Croatia, loudly supported by a few thousand fans, enjoyed another good spell to lead 15:10 by half-time.
This run continued well into the second half, as the Belarusian defence had a hard time holding their rivals back. Led by Igor Karacic and Luka Stepancic in attack and with a rock-solid defence, Croatia reached a double-digit advantage midway through the half (24:14).
At the later stage of the match, Lino Cervar gave a chance to his bench players, and although Saldatsenka returned to the Belarusian goal to make a few good saves, Croatia cruised to a comfortable win.
Chevtsov said afterwards that the game had not gone as he had wished.
"We didn’t play the game we had wanted to play, and it was the main problem. The players were overly motivated and made mistakes. Croatia's experience also played a role, and they claimed a fully-deserved win.”
Cervar said simply, "we played very good handball".
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) January 11, 2020