Duvnjak levels Balkan clash; lucky Slovenians with late comeback

QUALIFIERS REVIEW 2: The classic Croatia versus Serbia clash in Belgrade ended in a draw, Latvia won the Baltic derby and Slovenia came from behind to collect the points against Netherlands

Lazar Kukic was one of Serbia's top scorers versus Croatia.

Slovenia took a buzzer-beating victory in the Netherlands on Thursday night, thereby maintaining a clean record with six points, and Latvia won the Baltic duel in Estonia.

However, all eyes were on the thrilling Balkan clash in Belgrade. Thanks to the equaliser from Domagoj Duvnjak, the Croatians remain unbeaten, while Serbia still wait for their first victory.

Serbia vs Croatia 25:25 (13:13)

8,000 fans in the sold-out Stark Arena Belgrade saw the expected intense clash between the two Balkan powerhouses. As Serbia started with only one point from the matches against Belgium and Switzerland, the pressure was on the home side. The Croatians had arrived with four points – and left with five, thereby staying first on the table.

The lead in the truly combative battle changed constantly. Croatia had the better start, moving ahead 4:1 and 7:4, before the Serbians levelled the result for the first time at 8:8. From that moment, the biggest difference was two goals.

15:14 was the first Serbian advantage, and twice, the hosts had the chance to pull ahead by three. The last opportunity was at 20:18, but the Croatians struck back with three unanswered goals for 21:20.

Even in the final stages, the lead changed, from 23:22 to 23:24. Finally, it was Croatia captain Domagoj Duvnjak who secured the point for the ‘Cowboys’ thanks to his final two goals. 

Estonia vs Latvia 18:24 (11:10)

Only once in seven encounters so far, have Estonia won the Baltic derby against Latvia – and as of Thursday night, this 32:30 result in 2014 remains the sole victory. Thanks to the away win, Latvia took their second win, while the hosts remained on zero.

The first half was fully equal, with narrow advantages for the hosts. The one-goal difference at the break reflected the rundown of the first 30 minutes.

The Estonians were on eye level until minute 54 and the score of 16:18, then they lacked concentration, while the Latvians decided the match by way of a 6:2 run for the final result of 24:18.

It was not Vardar’s tall shooter Dainis Kristopans who had the biggest impact on the Latvian victory, but Uvis Strazdins, who netted five goals. Karl Toom and Dener Jaanimaa were the most successful Estonians, with four goals each.

Netherlands vs Slovenia 26:27 (12:11)

The final score of 27:26 was the only Slovenian lead in the whole 60 minutes. This is what you call efficient, but also lucky.

After their strong performances in the first two rounds, beating Estonia and Latvia, the Dutch were full of confidence to beat one of Europe’s top teams. Until minutes 58, it looked perfect for head coach Erlingur Richardsson’s side, but then the 2017 World Championship bronze medallists struck back.

After only 10 minutes, Netherlands had made their fans go crazy, leading 8:3 – but right before the break, Slovenia levelled the result at 11:11. If anyone thought the visitors would then have an easy-going evening, they were very wrong. The Netherlands fought hard and were tactically well adapted, pulling ahead to a four-goal distance at 19:15.

But again, the visitors equalised, 19:19, before the Netherlands reclaimed a two-goal advantage. However, after 26:24 in minute 53, the hosts did not score anymore goals, while a triple strike sealed the deal for the lucky Slovenians, who top the table with six points – two ahead of the Dutch.

written by Björn Pazen / cg