The French handball team alone took the lead in its group at the Euro, Thursday January 18 in Cologne (Germany), thanks to its victory (34-32) over Croatia on the first day of the second phase of the competition. Superior in the game, the Blues suffered until the last moments against a young and talented team that they never really managed to outrun.

Two obstacles presented themselves to them. Firstly, a recurring difficulty, since the start of the Euro, in putting the game down after the highlights. Second, a Croatian goalkeeper in a state of grace, Dominik Kuzmanovic, author of 13 saves on 31 shots. The young goalkeeper (21 years old) disgusted the French attackers who were hardly stingy with attempts, with 54 shots in sixty minutes (compared to 48 for their opponents).

The first half was marked by some very spectacular goals on the French side: a 30-yard lob from Dika Mem from a quickly played throw-in; a cross shot into the top corner from a rejuvenated Nikola Karabatic (39); a “kung-fu”, from one wing to the other, between Yannis Lene (the passer) and Hugo Descat (the scorer). Did the Blues feel intoxicated by too much ease at that point in the match?

Blues lacking adjustments, but undefeated

While they seemed to be heading towards a comfortable victory with a fluctuating 3-goal advantage, they let their opponents come back by multiplying failures in attack and neglecting to be aggressive in defense. The Croats didn’t ask for that much. The two teams returned to the locker room with a parity score (18-18).

Confusing speed – their trademark – with haste – their guilty pleasure – Guillaume Gille’s men then saw their opponents close to the mark after each of their accelerations. Experience ultimately prevailed in this muscular encounter which saw Ludovic Fabregas receive a red card after three temporary 2-minute expulsions. As expected, Nikola Karabatic became the best scorer in the history of the Euro by scoring his 289th goal in this competition which he is playing for the 11th time.

Two teams, out of six, will qualify for the semi-finals which will take place in a week, at the same place. A program within their reach – Austria, Iceland and Hungary – awaits the Blues, still lacking adjustment but still undefeated.