World champions France has ended Croatia’s semi-final hopes at the EHF EURO 2018.
Croatia, who needed at least a draw to advance to the semi-finals, came up short against the six-time world champions 30-27 in front of 15,000 fans at Zagreb Arena on Wednesday night.
Croatia started the match strong, continuing off how they ended against Norway. When Manuel Strlek scored to give Croatia a 7-6 lead early on, the big crowd started to believe.
However, that would be the last time in the match that Croatia would be in front as errors on attack were capitalised on by a clinical French side.
Apart from Strlek (4 goals) and Mamic (3), Croatia struggled in a first half dominated by mistakes, turning over the ball 8 times.
With goalie Ivan Stevanovic unable to repeat the heroics from the Norway match, France comfortably was able to stretch the lead and went into the break at half-time 19-13 ahead. Kentin Mahe led the way for France scoring 4.
Needing to peg back 6 goals to keep their semi-final hopes alive, Lino Cevar’s side had to come out on the offensive in the second half.
France, who had already qualified for the semi-finals, were playing as if they still had everything to play for and made it difficult to eat into the 6-goal lead as both sides traded goals.
With 12 minutes remaining Croatia trailed by 3 (25-22) when Strlek scored for Croatia’s third unanswered goal.
The gap then narrowed to just 2 when Cupic converted a penalty to make it 26-24, and then to 1 when Luka Cindric scored to make it 26-25 with just over 7 minutes remaining.
Croatia was unable to find the elusive goal to square the match up as France kept just ahead in the final five minutes of the match thanks to Guigou and the Karabatic brothers.
Croatia ends the main round with 2 wins and 1 loss but it was not enough to advance to the semi-finals and they will now meet the Czech Republic in the playoff for 5th spot.