Spain pulled off an incredible comeback, taking the lead for the first time since the opening stages with just over three minutes on the clock and securing group B’s final ticket to the EHF EURO 2020 main round with a 27:24 victory against the Czech Republic.
Until the last quarter of the game, it looked every bit as though the Czech Republic were on their way to the next stage, as nothing went right for Spain. But an improved performance from Spain goalkeeper Mercedes Castellanos and motivation stemming largely from right wing Carmen Martin saw the World Championship 2019 runners-up take the critical victory.
Spain vs Czech Republic 27:24 (11:16)
- a scoreless period of eight minutes up to the end of the first quarter saw Spain fall behind 5:9, leaving the Czech Republic to a comfortable lead at the break and seeing the Czechs in front until the dying minutes
- Czech goalkeeper Petra Kudláčková was once again in great form, finishing with 13 saves while high scoring Markéta Jeřábková tallied eight goals
- Carmen Martin was a standout for Spain, contributing 12 goals including nine penalties and helping to inject motivation into the side
- with 15 minutes remaining, the Czech Republic held their lead steady at 22:17, but a sudden improvement from Spain keeper Mercedes Castellanos (eight saves at 42 per cent) led Spain to level the game in the 52nd minute, 23:23
- the final minutes saw the match remain on the edge, but Spain had the last say with three straight goals that won the game
Czech Republic bow out after heart-breaking losses
So close, yet so far for the Czech Republic. After leading two of their three preliminary round matches through to late in the games, the Czechs were left with two defeats that could have been wins.
Although Sweden dominated the final 20 minutes, Czech goalkeeper Petra Kudláčková said after the match that her side could have won had they shown their best performance. Against Spain, the chance was there until the final three minutes, when the advantage was snatched by the World Championship 2019 silver medallists.
And so, the Czech Republic missed the chance to progress to the main round for the second straight EHF EURO.
Spain coach Carlos Viver said: “When we play matches like this, important matches that are key matches to go to the next round, sometimes you get in shock, you get blocked, and this is what happened with us in the first half. But of course you have to try to get there in these moments and I think we could do it in the second half.
“But in the second half, of course with our mistakes also, we were a different team. We put the best of us and we knew how important this match was for us. We did our best. Somebody had to win and we are really happy that it was us.”
Czech centre back Šárka Marčíková said: "I’m very, very sad after this game. I think this game was in our hands and we were not able to get to the win. I think in all this tournament, in all three matches, we were at least 30 minutes, maybe more, in every match the better team but we are leaving with zero points. This is something we have to work on in the future – to beat these teams.”