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Date: 4/9/2016
 

The second day of Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament III matches began with a decisive Croatian victory against Bahrain, keeping the EHF EURO 2016 bronze medallists in the running for one of Herning’s two tickets to Rio de Janeiro. 

In the second match of the evening Denmark and Norway played a thrilling draw that means both of the group’s places at the 2016 Olympic Games will be determined on Sunday. 

Jyske Bank BOXEN, Herning
Croatia vs Bahrain 33:22 (14:14)

Croatia, who won the Olympic gold medal in 1996 and 2004, may still hope to qualify for the Rio Olympics in August after their decisive win on Saturday, but it took them an entire half to find the recipe for defeating Bahrain.

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. 

Croatia coach Zeljko Babic had chosen to rest playmaker Domagoj Duvnjak from the start, but that did not keep Babic from employing their usual 5-1 defence. Instead of Duvnjak, it was Domagoj Pavlovic and Manuel Strlek who pushed forward, but Bahrain are used to practicing aggressive defence themselves and did not have much trouble against the Croatian system. 

Despite missing several of their usual left-handed players due to injury, Bahrain were able to dominate large parts of the first half. Babic was forced to send Duvnjak onto the court when his team were down 6:9, and the Croatians slowly came back to equalise before the half-time buzzer.

The start of the second half was crucial for Croatia’s victory, as 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.

As the second half progressed, it became clear that Bahrain were running out of resources, and the more focused Croatian team were able to increase their lead constantly through the rest of the match.

The win means Croatia are still in the race for a place at the Olympic Games, while Bahrain lost their chance with this defeat.

Denmark vs Norway 25:25 (12:13)

Denmark are very close to the Rio Olympics after drawing 25:25 against Norway in a nail-biting thriller on Saturday. A win against Bahrain on Sunday will make it all clear for the Danes, while Norway can look forward to a close contest against Croatia on the last match day in Herning. 

Norway had not – and still have not – won a competitive match against Denmark for eight years, but the point they earned from the draw may be enough to send them to Rio. Denmark entered the game knowing they could live with a three-goal defeat at Norway’s hands and still qualify for Rio, provided they beat Bahrain in their last match, but the motivation to ensure nothing more dramatic was clear whenever the visiting team were in the lead.

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 Friday’s 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.

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