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Date: 13.04.2016

Review: 2016 IHF Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament III – Herning, Denmark

Croatia and Denmark qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games from the IHF Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament III held at the Jyske Bank BOXEN in Herning, Denmark.

For full statistics, reports and pictures, visit the Herning mini-site HERE.

Match Day 1

Norway vs Bahrain 35:29 (16:15)
The Norwegians pleased their numerous fans in the Jyske Bank BOXEN by opening the tournament in Herning with a clear win.

From the start, Bahrain confused the Norwegian attack with their aggressive defence, which alternated between 3-2-1 and 3-3 systems. This enabled Bahrain to create an early 5:2 lead, but it did not take Norway long to find solutions against their opponents’ defence and reclaim the advantage at 6:5 as they settled into the game, despite just a one-goal half-time lead.

Bahrain stayed with Norway from the beginning of the second half, even claiming a one-goal advantage on more than one occasion and after 38 minutes the score was still even at 21:21, and it was not until the last 10 minutes that Norway created the match-deciding lead when they began to capitalise on their scoring opportunities to eventually take a six-goal win.

Best Player of the Match, presented by adidas: TBC

Denmark vs Croatia 28:24 (11:9)
Croatia took to the court missing Mirko Alilovic, as the Veszprem goalkeeper reported that he did not feel mentally ready for the national team so the EHF EURO 2016 bronze medallists’ goalkeeping duo was formed by Zagreb pair Ivan Stevanovic and Ivan Pesic and from the start they were key in a physical match focused on two strong, well-prepared defensive systems.

The Croatians practised their usual 5-1 defence with Domagoj Duvnjak pushing forward, which created big problems for the Danish attack and Stevanovic, made saves which added to the hosts’ troubles, but Croatia had their own difficulties scoring, all of which resulted in a low-scoring first half, at the end of which the Danes had a slight upper hand.

The frequency of goals increased considerably in the second half, as Croatia playmaker Luka Cindric picked his way through the Danish defence and Kasper Søndergaard helped make the home side’s attack more dangerous from his position at right back.

For a while the Danes were considerably more successful at scoring goals, as they pulled ahead by six at 22:16 and 23:17. However, Croatia’s change of defence from 5-1 to 6-0 disturbed the Danish attack, and the visitors created new doubt about the result with five goals in succession that closed the score line.

But as the clock ticked down Denmark proved the better team, as they increased the distance to four goals by the buzzer.

Best Player of the Match, presented by adidas: TBC

Match Day 2

Croatia vs Bahrain 33:22 (14:14)
Croatia kept up their chances of repeating an Olympic gold in Rio after winning it in 1996 and 2004, after a decisive win against Bahrain but it took them an entire half to find the recipe.

It was the second match in a row during which Bahrain were able to follow the favourite team through the first half. After being only one goal down at half-time against Norway on Friday, they finished the first 30 minutes against Croatia with a level score but after Croatia coach Zeljko Babic chose to bring on playmaker Domagoj Duvnjak after resting him it was a different story.

It took Bahrain six and a half minutes to score their first goal of the period, allowing the European side to pull ahead to 17:14 and they never looked back.

Best Player of the Match, presented by adidas: TBC

Denmark vs Norway 25:25 (12:13)
Denmark put one foot in Rio after drawing 25:25 against Norway in a nail-biting thriller which meant that the expected win against Bahrain in their final match will confirm their Olympic place, while the result for Norway meant that would have it all to do against Croatia.

The result meant that Norway continued their run of not winning a competitive match against Denmark for eight years.

The game started at a breathtaking pace with impressive attacking play from both teams, leaving the goalkeepers few chances to make saves. Norway were first to tighten their defence, and in combination with heavy pressure from the back court line, this change earned them a 10:6 lead.

However, the Danes also stabilised their defensive play as the first half progressed and reduced the deficit to one goal by half-time thanks mainly to an accurate-shooting Mikkel Hansen, who contributed the last goal of the period on a free throw after the buzzer.

In the second half the Norwegian defence was better at containing Mikkel Hansen, while at the other end of the court, Norway’s 20-year-old playmaker Sander Sagosen was a considerable problem for the Danish defence.

Just as in their match against Croatia, Kasper Søndergaard, who was sent on from the start of the second half, strengthened Denmark’s attack. As a result, the Danes led by one goal several times toward the end of the close second half, but when neither team could create an edge in the final minute the thriller finished in a draw.

Best Player of the Match, presented by adidas: TBC

Match Day 3

Croatia vs Norway 27:21 (14:7)
The support from around 600 fans that made the trip across the Skagerrak Sea to Herning proved not enough to boost Norway to really threaten Croatia who gained their Olympic pass ahead of Denmark who would later beat Bahrain to confirm theirs, whilst putting Norway out of their misery, who were hoping for an unlikely win from the Asian side.

It was only seven minutes into the match that Norway coach Christian Berge needed to call his first time-out. At that point his team was already down 5:0 against a very focused and determined Croatia. It took another 30 seconds for Norway to score their first goal.

Norway had particular problems with Stevanovic in goal who saved Norwegian shots from all angles to finish with an amazing 73 per cent save rate in the first half alone to leave his opponents on just seven goals on the first-half scoresheet.

Stevanovic continued his impressive performance from the start of the second half, and the match was long decided when he called it a day and left the goal to Ivan Pesic.

Norway decreased the score line a little towards the end of the match, but they never came close to the draw that would have sent them to Rio.

Bahrain vs Denmark 24:26 (12:12)
While Bahrain had no chance to reach the Olympics when they took to the court on Sunday, Denmark could afford a defeat of up to three goals and still qualify. But such concerns were only relevant for a short while during the first half, when Bahrain managed to lead by exactly three goals.

For large parts the match followed a similar pattern to Bahrain’s first two games. Despite missing their two best right wings and their two best right backs due to injury, Bahrain were able to follow their opponents through the first half once again. Their aggressive defence frustrated the Danish attack quite a lot, and Denmark suffered a goal drought of 10 and a half minutes around the middle of the first half enabling Bahrain to move three goals in front to 7:4 before the hosts caught up by half-time.

The Danes moved to a seven-goal lead at 22:15 in the second half and held on long enough to end their home tournament undefeated and top of the group, complete with a ticket to Rio in their hand.

Best Player of the Match, presented by adidas:  TBC

Statistics – 2016 IHF Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament III – Herning, Denmark

Best Attack (Goals Scored): 84 (CRO)
Highest Amount of Shots: 161 (BRN)
Best Defence (Goals Conceded): 71 (CRO)
Most Shots Faced: 119 (CRO)
Most Shots Saved: 48 (CRO)
Best Goalkeeper (three games): Ivan STEVANOVIC (CRO) 41% (25/61)
Top Scorer: Kristian BJORNSEN (NOR) – 20
Top Assists: Domagoj DUVNJAK (CRO) – 16
Top Scorer + Assists: Domagoj DUVNJAK (CRO) – 30

Photos: DHF