LONDON (Reuters) - Emotions were on display as Croatia beat Balkan neighbors Serbia 31-23 on Tuesday to lead Group B of the handball competition having won their opening two games.
Frustrated Croatia coach Slavko Goluza feigned to kick one of his players and Ivano Balic threw a towel over his head as Serbia pegged a goal back but seconds later the pair were bouncing around celebrating.
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.
Top scorer 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 fans 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 supporters’ 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, to top Group A.
The Beijing silver medalists won 32-22 before Sweden tormented Britain 41-19 to join Iceland on four points.
Denmark and Spain were due to meet in the day’s fifth game before Olympic champions France face debutants Argentina.
Edited by Alison Wildey