28 January 2017
Slovenia come back from an eight-goal deficit to claim the 25th IHF Men’s World Championship bronze medal in the last minute of the game.
Slovenia claimed their first-ever IHF Men’s World Championship medal with an incredible comeback, after trailing through the first 59 minutes of the game and seeing a deficit of eight goals. Veselin Vujovic’s team claimed the advantage for the first time in the final 60 seconds, when Borut Mackovsek scored the game-winning goal.
Bronze-medal match: Slovenia vs Croatia 31:30 (13:18)
Three of Croatia’s opening four goals were scored on fast breaks, as the 2013 World Championship bronze medallist made the most of goalkeeper Ivan Stevanovic’s early saves. The keeper stopped three of Slovenia’s first six attempts, recording 50 per cent while his counterpart at the other end of the court also had an impact – though Slovenia’s Matevz Skok could not stop Croatia taking a 5:3 lead with Manuel Strlek’s third goal after only nine minutes of play.
When Croatia hit 6:4 off what was already their fifth fast break just after the 10-minute mark, Slovenia coach Veselin Vujovic changed his line-up and brought in Jure Dolonec as an attacking specialist. Gasper Marguc joined his direct opponent Strlek on three goals in the 13th, putting the score to 8:6 with a penalty shot, as Slovenia began to have more luck finding the goal past Stevanovic, Croatia’s pace slowed.
Midway through the half, the two-goal distance remained before Nik Henigman scored an outside shot that decreased the gap to one at 9:8, but the relief was temporary. By the time the clock passed 20 minutes Croatia were back in command as Marko Mamic created the first four-goal advantage at 12:8.
With five minutes left in the half, Croatia maintained a four-goal lead, and both goalkeepers were having more trouble stopping the shots coming at them as Stevanovic’s rate dropped to 27 per cent and Skok tallied six saves at 29. Still, Croatia were able to increase their lead by one more goal before the half-time whistle sounded, and returned for the second period with a clear advantage that represented a difficult task for Slovenia.
The five-goal score line persisted through the opening seven minutes of the second half, before Strlek took Croatia further in front with his fifth goal of the game and Domagoj Duvnjak scored his third to put the score at 22:15. Vujovic responded with an immediate time-out, but when the last 20 minutes of the match began Croatia seemed to be on their way to claiming the bronze medal as they ran up an eight-goal advantage at 24:16.
Slovenia proved why it pays to keep fighting, however, as they steadily decreased the difference until Blaz Janc converted a penalty that closed the gap to three at 29:26 with six minutes left – plenty of time for Croatia to feel the pressure. One minute later Darko Cingesar scored from a low angle on left wing, and in the next attack, Dolenec found Mackovsek to add a spectacular in-flight goal that put Croatia in a dangerous position with only a narrow lead at 29:28.
While Croatia stood stunned, Cingesar levelled the score as the match entered the last three minutes, and as the final 60 seconds began Slovenia took the lead for the first time in the match thanks to Mackovsek. Croatia took possession but they could not find the goal, and Slovenia held on through the dying seconds to record what must be considered the most remarkable comeback at France 2017.
Manuel STRLEK (CRO):
“These are the worst 24 hours of my life. We lost two games we shouldn’t have lost in less than 24 hours. I don’t know how to explain this. In the last ten minutes, they play very well, actually amazing and on our side it was like somebody turned off the lights.”
Veselin VUJOVIC, coach (SLO):
“I don’t know how we won this game, really. The Croatian team had a good performance and played perfectly for around 58 minutes. Yesterday also I saw the Croatian team very tired in the last ten minutes. We opened the game very badly, especially in defence. We conceded 18 goals in the first half, that’s too much. But in the last ten minutes, we started to think that we had a chance to win this game. And finally we won, I’m very satisfied, it was my dream. I know the Croatian players and I respect Zeljko a lot, I know how hard the situation is for them. I don’t know if it was a good thing that they played these two very important games in 24 hours.”
Best Player of the Match presented by adidas: Marko BEZJAK (SLO)
Photo: S. Pillaud / IHF