Spain wrote their nation into the history books on Sunday evening in Tele2 Arena, as they became the first to defend the EHF EURO title since Sweden last did so in 2002. Spain defeated Croatia 22:20 in what was the third lowest-scoring final in EHF EURO history, played in front of 17,769 spectators.
The ‘Hispanos’ victory was secured in the last minute, when Alex Dujshebaev struck with 25 seconds on the clock to open a two-goal lead, before Gonzalo Perez de Vargas saved the final attempt from Croatia.
As winners of the EHF EURO, Spain are now directly qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, after they missed the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
- Spain win their second EHF EURO trophy and become the first to defend the title since Sweden in 2002
- the title is Spain’s fourth at major international competitions, following two World Championship wins, in 2005 and 2013, and the EHF EURO victory two years ago
- Spain goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas’ entry to the game was the turning point, leading his side to turn around a three-goal deficit and ultimately securing the win with his final save
- Croatia’s Domagoj Duvnjak is named Grundfos Player of the Match for his five goals and key role in defence
- Norway’s Sander Sagosen is confirmed as the top scorer of the EURO, with a record-breaking 65 goals scored – the most ever in one European championship
Spain vs Croatia 22:20 (12:11)
After the first clash between the finalists of the EHF EURO 2020 ended with a draw in the main round, the trophy game was expected to be a close encounter – and it lived up to those expectations. Both sides had their turn with a lead of at least three goals, but in the final minutes, the score was level until 25 seconds remaining when the outcome was decided with a goal from Alex Dujshebaev and the final save from Perez de Vargas.
The most decisive factors were EHF EURO 2020 MVP Domagoj Duvnjak and All-star Team goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas. Duvnjak led Croatia with five goals, played an important role as the number one in their 5-1 defensive formation, and also contributed an assist that led to their greatest advantage in the first half, 10:7 in the 19th minute.
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Through the opening 18 minutes, Croatia were either consistently in front with a one-goal edge or level with Spain. Neither side’s goalkeepers were strong during that period, and Croatia’s duo of Marin Sego and Matej Asanin made just two saves in the first 30 minutes.
Perez de Vargas entered Spain’s goal in the 19th minute after Rodrigo Corrales also recorded zero saves. Perez de Vargas had allowed one penalty scored earlier in the match, but after he took Corrales’ place, he was impossible to beat in the rest of the first half in particular.
Croatia’s shooting accuracy had stood at 83 per cent in the 20th minute, 8:10, with only two missed shots. But thanks to Perez de Vargas, the percentage plunged in the last minutes before half-time. Perez de Vargas did not concede a single goal until the final minute of the half, and Croatia were kept scoreless for 11 minutes until David Mandic levelled the game, 11:11.
With six saves against the seven he had faced, Perez de Vargas recorded an incredible 86 per cent at that point. His entry after a Spain timeout spurred a 4:0 partial that drew Spain level off a 132km/h goal from Jorge Maqueda, then earned them the advantage for the first time in the match.
Three consecutive goals from Aleix Gomez, two of which came off fast breaks, secured a clearer lead for Spain, 15:12 in the 36th minute. Following a comeback from Croatia that saw the match on tenterhooks from the 45th through to the 59th, it was a penalty scored by the 22-year-old right wing that pulled Spain in front by one, paving the way for the game-winning strike from Dujshebaev.
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) January 26, 2020
Spanish coach Jordi Ribera said the team's tactics had worked out.
"We were right in our way only focusing on the next match, especially when you have so many difficult matches to play. This focus was brilliant and therefore we sit here with gold medals," he said after the match.
Croatia left back Marko Mamic said: “It was a tough game until the end, they scored in the crucial moments, we did not. Both sides played with a tough defence.
"It is hard, but we have to be satisfied with the second position, we must be proud and we focus on the next tournaments."