A late-strike from Neralic sent Croatia to the final
Greece came close in clinching a place in the final of VRILITTOS, for the first time in the history of the tournament, but a last-minute Croatian goal denied the hosts a historical win against a traditional handball powerhouse.
Jakov Neralic was the MVP and the hero for Croatia, scoring the “golden” goal with 23 seconds still on the clock, with which his team beat Greece 21:20 and set a re-match with Iceland at the tournament’s gold medal match.
The Croats used their individual skills as well as their team spirit and tactics to take the reins and establish a big six-goal lead against Greece at minute 42 (18:12).
When everything seemed lost form Greece, the Croats clearly lost their mind for more than five minutes allowing the brave Greek-side, guided by Alexandridis who came in from the bench, to move within a striking distance (18:17) with 13 minutes remaining i.e. plenty of time still on the clock.
Croatia worked hard to maintain a slender lead, but one minute and 35 seconds before the end, Tzortzinis made it all square (20:20). In Croatia’s last try to regain the lead and although the referees had warned them with passive playing, Neralic swiftly made the desperate shot which ended deep in Greece’s net. The hosting nation had 23 seconds to respond, but the Croatian rock solid defence blocked their final effort.
CROATIA – GREECE 21:20
Scoreline: 2:2, 4:3, 6:4, 8:5, 10:8, 12:9 (halftime), 13:11, 17:12, 18:13, 19:18, 20:19, 21:20
CROATIA (Nino Markovic): Trninic 1, Jutrisa 1, Farkas, Puric 1, Lisac, Dendo, Svrznjak 3, Grdovic, Neralic 8, Leskovec 2, Salic, Tintor 2, Bakovic 1, Strkovic 2, Turcic, Pandza.
GREECE (Nikolaos Geordiadis): Petromelidis, Sina 3, Vasileiou-Tsafos, Janca, Biniaris 4, Tabakos, Pagiatis 2, Tzortzinis 1, Papazoglou, Sarafis 8, Dikaioulias, Alexandridis 1, Kotsionis 1, Anagnostopoulos, Skoufas, Anastasiou, Bampatzanidis, Stankidis.
Referees: Alvarez – Bustamante (Spain). 2 mins suspensions: 2-2. 7m: 1/1-4/5.
Jakov Neralic (Play maker Croatia): “We were in control for 40 minutes, but we almost blew it away. I cannot explain why we wasted a six-goal advantage. Greece is really strong, they could had beaten us, because in the end the game went down to one final shot.
“We feel glad we’ve reached the final. We will try to make amends for losing to Iceland yesterday.”
Dimitris Bampatzanidis (Goalkeeper Greece): “We desperately wanted to win this game, although we knew that it wouldn’t be easy. We almost completely overturned a very difficult situation.
“It doesn’t matter why we found ourselves trailing by six goals, but what we did to come back and we feel proud about that.
“We still have a last chance to snatch a medal. As always, we will try our best to beat Israel and make our compatriots happy.”