Goalkeeper Navarro secures EHF EURO Final berth for Spain
18 saves of goalkeeper Silvia Navarro were the key to the second Spanish final berth at a Women's EHF EURO event.
After beating Germany in 2008 in the semi-finals at the European Championship in FYR Macedonia, this time they crushed the hopes of current champions Montenegro for a successful title defence with a narrow 19:18 (13:8) victory in Budapest on Friday.
An equally low-scoring semi-final was played only once before at an EHF EURO. At the 2002 event Norway beat France 21:16.
After losing the 2012 Olympic semi-final 26:27 against Montenegro, Spain have now taken revenge and beat their opponents on competitive level for the first time since the World Championship 2011 when they ousted them 23:19 in the Last 16.
“It feels amazing, we played really good today, we destroyed them in the first half, but in the second half we didn’t relax so we didn’t finish the job properly. In the end it doesn’t matter, because we won," said right wing Carmen Martin.
Despite the defeat, the Montenegrin fans celebrated their team after the end from the stands, but it were the Spanish players who danced on the court.
The first half was the weakest EHF EURO 2014 performance of the defending champions to date.
They recorded 15 missed shots, eight turnovers and Milena Knezevic did not convert one of her six attempts - Montenegro played way below par in the first half.
"We lost this game in the first half, when we were not good enough. It is really tough to lose this game by one goal," said Marija Jovanovic.
"Spain were not that much better, but still they were better than us today. They were able to do more rotations during the match and that made the difference."
On the other side of the court the Spanish defence was well prepared, and whenever the Montenegrin shooters broke through, Spain could rely on goalkeeper Silvia Navarro.
In defence Montenegro, who missed Suzana Lacovic in the middle block after the line player had received a one-match ban following her direct red card in the match against Sweden on Wednesday, were also far away from their performance.
They allowed Spain to score easy goals, and in particular Elisabet Chavez enjoyed a lot of freedom on the line.
Spain enjoyed a well-deserved 13:8 half-time lead, they intermediately had even led by seven at 11:4, while the defending champions needed nine attacks to score their first goal.
The initial stages of the second half still were marked by tactics, nervousness and hectic on both sides.
Spain needed four minutes to score their first goal, while Montenegro's scoring efficiency was still too weak to really threaten their opponents.
However, their defence now stood strong, in particular goalkeeper Marina Rajcic was much better compared to Sonja Barjaktarovic who had played in the first half.
Spain played extremely long attacks that were always bordering on passive play as they searched for the gap instead of firing on all cylinders.
Hence in the first 21 minutes after the break they had only scored three goals, a span which even included 14 minutes without a goal.
But the defending champions did not grab the opportunities to turn the match in their favour.
They still missed clear chances and many of them looked tired after the team had nearly played all its matches by now with only ten players.
When Montenegro had come as close as 17:18, Elisabet Pinedo scored the winning goal for Spain 75 seconds before the end, and Montenegro could only score once more.
"I hope to face Norway, I really want to play against Norway. We lost the final to them in Macedonia (at the EHF EURO 2008) and the match against them in this championship, to meet them on Sunday would be great," said Spain's Marta Mangue.
"We know Norway better then we know Sweden, we made it too easy for Norway in previous matches, our key to win against them is our defence. We are going to win the final and take the gold medal."