LONDON (Reuters) - Croatia coach Slavko Goluza went from frustration to joy in a matter of moments as his team beat Balkan neighbors Serbia 31-23 then Olympic champions France’s flare came out against Argentina on Tuesday.
Goluza feigned to kick one of his players and team member Ivano Balic threw a towel over his head as Serbia pegged a goal back but seconds later the pair were bouncing around celebrating to entertain another lively Copper Box crowd.
Feelings can run high when the countries meet but add in the pressure of Olympic competition, where Croatia are seeking to become the first men’s team to win three gold medals, and reactions become unpredictable.
France fans chanted “On est chez nous” (We are at home) and their team responded with in a 32-20 win over the South American newcomers to top Group A with four points.
Croatia are Group B pacesetters, also with two wins from two and Denmark lie second after they piped 2008 bronze medalists Spain 24-23 in the dying stages.
Ivan Cupic of Croatia, the only player on the court under 1.80 meters who laughed as he referred to himself as “small”, said his countrymen often make a lot of noise.
“There’s always something happening on our bench. We’re from Croatia, it’s like that,” he told Reuters.
Cupic excelled in the land of giants by converting a series of darting runs around his enormous but less nimble opponents.
“I got lucky today. In the next match somebody else will get lucky,” he said modestly after scoring eight goals.
“I need to be fast. If they catch me I‘m dead,” he joked.
European championship runners-up Serbia have lost both their games and are facing an early flight home.
Serbia captain Momir Ilic smacked his fists together in anger on the bench in the first half, joined simultaneously around the Copper Box by supporters and even journalists, who slammed their hands against their wooden work desks.
Coach Veselin Vukovic was in an equally gloomy mood.
“It’s disappointing my team was not running. This is the problem we have to discuss now,” he told Reuters as his team slinked past in silence.
“Playing like this we have no chance,” he said of Serbia’s must-win game against Denmark, who beat them in the European championship final in January.
Hungary beat South Korea 22-19 earlier in the day and winning coach Lajos Mocsai staying long after his team had disappeared to sign supporter flags and pose for photos.
Iceland kicked the day off by hammering Tunisia in the first half, described as one of the best coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson had seen in his 23 years on the sidelines.
The Beijing silver medalists won 32-22 before three-times runners-up Sweden tormented Britain 41-19 to join Iceland on four points.
Denmark and Spain went toe-to-toe in the day’s fifth game during a frantic and physical battle that Michael Knudsen won for the European champions in the final three seconds when he fired past on-song goalkeeper Jose Hombrados Ibanez.
World player of the year Mikkel Hansen booted the ball into his own net on the siren in celebration as his team formed an elated huddle. Spain shook their heads in bitter disappointment.
Edited by Alison Wildey