London 2012 - Serbia to meet Denmark in Euro handball final
Hosts Serbia reached their first European handball championship final as an independent nation after an absorbing 26-22 win over bitter Balkan rivals Croatia in a charged atmosphere on Friday.
They will face Denmark in Sunday's final after the Scandinavians edged Spain 25-24, having recovered from a poor start to the tournament in which they lost two of three preliminary group stage games.
The Balkan derby was played amid tight security, with thousands of riot police deployed in and around the Belgrade Arena to prevent crowd trouble which marred the 16-nation tournament earlier this week in the northern city of Novi Sad.
Croatian fans were attacked by Serbian hooligans on motorways and petrol stations as they made their way back to Croatia after the games with Spain and France.
Dozens of cars with Croatian number plates were smashed and had their tyres punctured in parking lots around the SPENS Arena in Novi Sad, where Croatia played their second group stage matches supported by 5,000 of their fans who made daily trips.
Serbian police had arrested the perpetrators of the attacks and on Friday they escorted some 200 Croatian fans all the way from the border into the Belgrade Arena.
On the court, Serbia produced an effervescent second-half performance as goalkeeper Darko Stanic pulled off a string of superb saves while captain Momir Ilic rifled in eight goals from 12 shots, including four penalties.
"What we saw today was victory of handball because these two teams from the former Yugoslavia showed an abundance of talent and I wish the Croatian team the best of luck in their third-place match against Spain," Ilic told a news conference.
"I relished the prospect of playing against Croatia in the semi-finals not because I wanted an emotionally charged clash, but because we play the kindred entertaining handball we all thrive in," he said.
Denmark, who won Euro 2008 and finished second in last year's world championship, overcame three-times runners up Spain in a dramatic finish after the lead had changed hands several times.
The Danes trailed 7-3 early on and then led 17-13 midway through the second half before their key player Mikkel Hansen unleashed a fierce shot which found the back of the net with 40 second left on the clock.
Macedonia registered their best result in a major event when they pipped Slovenia 28-27 in the fifth-place playoff and snatched an Olympic qualifying berth.
The winners of EHF EURO 2012 will qualify for the 2012 games in London automatically while Macedonia and one other team will take part in qualifying tournaments to be held in April.