18/12/2020

Commanding win takes France to second straight final

SEMI-FINAL REVIEW: France kept Croatia to the lowest-scoring first half in EURO semi-final history, paving the way for a decisive 30:19 win to secure the first place in the trophy match

Kalidiatou Niakate was key to France's victory over Croatia. Photo © Uros Hocevar / kolektiff

The first half was what decided the opening semi-final at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, as Croatia saw the biggest deficit in history in the penultimate stage against them and could not stage a big enough comeback to overturn the deficit in the second period. France could see the final ahead of them long before the buzzer, when they secured a 30:19 victory and with that their second consecutive EHF EURO final berth.

France now have the chance to defend their title won in 2018 on home ground, while Croatia have the opportunity to take their first medal at any major international championship. Their opponents for the respective matches will be found in the second semi-final, Norway versus Denmark.

SEMI-FINAL 1

France vs Croatia 30:19 (15:5)

  • France kept Croatia to the lowest scoring first half in the history of the Women’s EHF EURO semi-finals, thanks to a flawless functioning of their trademark defence and great support from goalkeeper Amandine Leynaud – whose teammates ensured she faced only eight shots in the period
  • after taking a 3:2 lead early on, Croatia were left without a goal for more than 10 minutes, during which time France opened a decisive advantage. Croatia finished the first half with a shooting efficiency of 26 per cent after scoring only two goals in 22 minutes
  • France enjoyed a strong attacking game led by the back court. Grundfos Player of the Match Kalidiatou Niakate top scored the first half with four goals while Alexandra Lacrabère reached the 150-goal mark at EHF EUROs with her second
  • Croatia captain Katarina Jezic was an important presence on court in the second half, introducing more focus on the line player and helping her side outscore France in the first 15 minutes of the period
  • after seeing the biggest half-time score line in a Women’s EHF EURO semi-final against them, Croatia’s fight back was admirable – but they could not decrease the clear deficit created in the first period and the outcome was decided when France entered the last 10 minutes with a 10-goal lead, 24:14

Croatian history made despite defeat

The dream campaign that has captivated the handball world came to an end on Friday night, but it cannot be forgotten that this is still Croatia’s best result in any international championship – and so the negative step is really just one on an overwhelmingly positive journey.

The team still have the chance to leave Denmark with a medal, which would be their first ever. Croatia’s previous best ranking at a major championship was fifth at the very first EHF EURO, in 1994. With their top-four finish, they have also qualified for the World Championship for the first time since 2011.

But the most important consequence of Croatia’s result lies back home, where women’s handball has become a huge topic of interest, helped by the likes of football star Luka Modric and Men’s EHF EURO 2020 MVP Domagoj Duvnjak lending themselves to the cause.

We can expect to see much more from Croatia in the years to come.

Match reaction

France coach Olivier Krumbholz said: "It was a tough game but we had amazing defence, especially Estelle Nze Minko. When she is in front of this defence, she was incredible. She was everywhere. We were very serious in the first half and 10 goals against Croatia at the half of the game, it was incredible. After it was not perfect but it is not a problem – we were qualified."

Croatia coach Nenad Sostaric said: “We lost the game in the first half in the attack, not in the defence. We missed too many open chances and we just played normally in the second half. We were first time in the semi-finals, this group has only five professional players. But I really hope that they will be in the semi-finals for a long time."

written by Courtney Gahan / jh