A scoring exhibition by Lucian Bura and a powerhouse Croatia team sealed the fate of a talented team Denmark to win the 2022 IHF Men’s Beach Handball Championships held in Crete all of last week, while in the women’s side, synchronized team play by Germany spoiled Spain’s hopes of victory. Greece made the semis, but ended up fourth in both men and women.
Croatia’s 2-0 (24-22, 21-18) win over European champions Denmark punctuated a beach handball spectacle set at the Karteros Beach Sports Center outside Iraklio. In a spectator sports wake-up from the Covid-19 pandemic hibernation, some 2,000-plus athletes from around the world ventured to Crete for the tournament hosted by Greece and the Hellenic Handball Federation (OHE).
For Croatia, this was their fourth successive IHF Men’s Beach Handball World Championship and their third gold medal effort. The team reached the finals via a string of primarily one-sided victories, culminating in a semi-final shoot-out with home favorites Greece. On the other hand, Denmark’s finals journey went past previously undefeated Brazil and a close 2-1 victory.
From the tip-off, both teams showed off their offensive prowess until brilliant defense by Croatia’s goalkeeper Dominik Markovic stalled the Danish team in the second set. Then, in the final seconds, a flurry of goals by all-star MVP Lucian Bura and teammate Ivan Dumencic capped the victory. But, in the end, the final was all about overall shot efficiency (70% to 62%).
Croatia and Denmark dominated the men’s all-star selections for the tournament, with Brazil’s Gil Pires and Greece’s Giorgos Eleftheriadis being the only exceptions. Bura took home the highest scorer and best right-wing honors, and Denmark’s Simon Jensen won the best goalkeeper.
In the battle for the bronze medal, Greece lost another heartbreaker to Brazil 0-2 (15-18, 18-24).
In the women’s final, Spain succumbed to a relentless German team in a 0-2 (14-15, 20-22) where balance proved to be everything. In the semis, Spain had decimated the home team and defending champions Greece to reach the finals. However, Amelie Möllmann and her flawless teammates functioned like a well-oiled machine, collectively thwarting every Spanish surge.
In set 1, Mollmann and her colleagues held off Patricia Conejero Galan and her teammates to take the lead 1-0. Then, in set 2, the Spain women seemed to have contained Spain’s top scorers when specialist Michelle Schafer came on with critical goals to push Germany onto the winner’s podium. Statistically, the two teams mirrored one another in shot efficiency, except for specialist shot efficiency buoyed by Schafer (78%).
The 2022 IHF women’s all-stars were more representative of the field of teams. Spain’s Asuncion Batista won MVP, and Best Pivot. Her teammate, Patricia Encinas Guardado, captured Best Goalkeeper, and USA’s Christine Mansour took home Top Scorer honors. In addition, Greece’s Ntafini Dimitri, Germany’s Amelie Mollmann, Argentina’s Lucila Candela Balsas, and Netherlands’ Rianne Mol were all-stars.
In the women’s division bronze medal match, home team Greece lost to the Netherlands in a shootout that went to the 5th shot: 1-2 (22-23,19-16, 8-9).
The games were full of climactic points, but none bigger than the favorites, the 2018 World Champion Greek women losing dramatically to Spain. In that semi-final shocker, the Greeks went almost halfway through the second set with only 2 points. Women’s coach Maria Karantoni said after the match she had no explanation for her women scoring only four points in a set, something she said “had never happened in the team’s history.”
Other tournament highlights included the Youth Beach Handball World Championships concluded the previous week. That championship concluded with Croatia’s men and Spain’s women beating the competition to get gold. Both wins were by shoot-outs, which set the tone for the seniors’ games that followed in week 2.