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Date: 1/26/2013

Bronze at the 2012 European championship, bronze at the 2012 London Olympic Games and now bronze at the 2013 World Championship – no team ever in the history of men’s handball had even been holding all three bronze medals of major events at the same time, now the Croats hold this record after beating Slovenia in the bronze final of the World Championship in Spain on Saturday (26 January) by 31:26 (14:13) in Barcelona.

After an equal first half, the Slovenians lost their energies completely and never were able to endanger the 2003 World Champion. By this result, Slovenia missed their first ever medal at World Championships. Their only podium position remains the silver medal at the 2004 European championship on home ground after losing the final against Germany – when they had eliminated Croatia in the semi-final.

In their long series of success winning bronze in Barcelona was the first ever third rank for Croatia at World Championships after winning gold in 2003 and silver in 1995, 2005 and 2009. The team of Slavko Goluza will be awarded with their bronze medal on Sunday after the final Spain vs. Denmark (throw-off: 17.15 hrs. local times).

Both teams seemed to be tired in their ninth match at this competition.  Both had missed the final after their first defeat after seven straight victories before. As the Slovenians initially could count on their goalkeeper Primoz Prost and were backed by the support of their vociferous fans in Palau Sant Jordi, the Croats profited from the goals of their overall top scorers: Domagoj Duvnjak (4) and Ivan Cupic (6) scored ten of in total 13 Croatian goals before the break. After the Croats had forged ahead to 6:4, Slovenian coach Boris Denic took his time-out. His team equalized at 10:10 and even took the lead for the first time at 12:11 – but at the final whistle of a totally leveled first 30 minutes, their neighbours were in lead by 13:12.

As the Croats constantly were buffering the Slovenian attacks, they easily forged ahead to their first ever four goal margin at 18:14 after 37 minutes, causing another Denic time-out and a loud cheering from the Croatian fans. Except Prost, who still prevented his team from an even clearer backlog, the Slovenians could not find their usual rhythm, were resigning early, recognizing that the chips were falling. And when the Croats were away by 20:14, Slovenia weakened themselves additionally, as Marko Bezjak received a direct card after stopping a Cupic counter-attack by a severe foul.

Still the Denic team could not manage to score against a strong Croatian goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic, losing their confidence –it took them twelve minutes to strike for their second goal after the break, when Croatia was already decisively away 21:14 attended by approximately 10.000 spectators in Palau Sant Jordi. Croatia had no problems in running down the clock – but had to cope with one bad news, as top scorer Cupic (finally eight goals like Duvnjak) was hit by a shoulder injury.

Statements after the match:

Slavko Goluza, coach Croatia: I have to give a big congratulation to all of my 16 players, who fought really hard today. It was hard for us after the defeat against Denmark in the semi-final, but we showed a good performance in the bronze final. I had already said before the World Championship that Slovenia is one of the best teams in the world, and they confirmed their improvement since the 2012 European championship in Spain. It was not a beautiful match, but we were able to make it and deserved this victory. Both teams have a great future ahead and played a great tournament.

Jakov Gojun, player Croatia: It was really hard for us to come back after this semi-final defeat. But after an internal team meeting we were really focused on this match and deserved to win this medal. Two Balkan teams in the semi-finals prove the great work done in this region. We can be proud of all national teams, as our team is proud to have won this medal for the Croatian people.

Domagoj Duvnjak, player Croatia: Our team had shown character, as we had the defeat in the semi-final in our heads. Now we have a medal – a happy ending of this tournament. It was a big stress, especially from the mental point of view, but three tournaments in only twelve months are also physically very hard. I don’t know what I will do with all those adidas watches I received as a player of the match.

Igor Vori, player Croatia: A brilliant end. We will fall asleep with a medal around our necks. It was really tough, but now we are happy. Although we were disappointed after losing the semi, a medal is a medal, this is what counts and this night we will have a beer.

Boris Denic, coach Slovenia: We could not achieve, what we wanted to do in this match, but in general we played a great tournament with brilliant matches. Today Croatia was the better team. In future we have to improve and to keep on working.

Primoz Prost, goalkeeper Slovenia: We tried everything, but we were not powerful enough and not successful. Right after the break in the crucial stage Croatia punished every of our mistakes. When you cause so many mistakes, you cannot win.

Peter Pucelj, player Slovenia: We wanted to win this medal, but we lacked the power. I congratulate Croatia. We are satisfied with the tournament, but not with the last two games. But we have a young team, which will clearly improve.

Uros Zorman, player Slovenian: We are very disappointed. Of course we did not go to the final weekend to lose twice, but unfortunately we were not able to reach more today. Croatia is the deserved winner.