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A weekend of agony and ecstasy against the Spanish

There were ups and downs for the handball team and Wozzie this weekend

Ulrik Wilbek's handball team passed their Spanish test in Herning with aplomb, but Caroline Wozniacki faltered against a senorita in the searing Melbourne heat (Photo: Scanpix)

January 20, 2014

by Christian Wenande

It was a mixed bag of nuts for Danish sports fans this weekend after Caroline Wozniacki was knocked out of the Australian Open before the men’s handball team beat Spain to inch closer to a Euro semi-final place.

For the Danish men’s handball team, the word of the day heading into their match against Spain was ‘revenge’, just one year on after being emphatically embarrassed 19-35 by the Spaniards in the 2013 World Championship final. And in front of 14,000 rabid fans at the BOXEN Arena in Herning, the Danes came through, winning 31-28 to make them the even money favourites to win the tournament.

The Danes led 16-14 at half- time and at times led by as many as five goals thanks to an inspired performance from coach Ulrik Wilbek’s players. Mikkel Hansen got six goals and Kasper Søndergaard added five, but it was goalkeeper Niklas Landin who really haunted the Spaniards thanks to a 40 percent save rate, including a stunning four out of eight saved penalty throws.

“It was a tough match because Spain is a very good side,” Wilbek told BT tabloid. “We had to play to our very best, and I can’t promise that we can play that well again because this was an excellent handball game and we were brilliant. But we haven’t won anything yet.”

READ MORE: Handball women end medal drought

Semi-final in sight
The win puts Denmark in firm control of Group 1 with six points, two points ahead of Spain and three points ahead of Hungary and Iceland, both of which the Danes have yet to meet.

“We hope that we’ll play four more games in the tournament, but that requires a victory tonight against Hungary,” Wilbek said. “But there is nothing certain in this world – even Liverpool drop points once in a while – so we must remain focused ahead of the match.”

A point in either game would guarantee a spot in the semis – most likely against Croatia, who were beaten by Group 2 leaders France on Sunday. But Sweden and Poland are also in the mix thanks to narrow wins last night against Russia and Belarus.

Should Denmark go on to win the tournament, it would be the third time since 2008 that the Danes have become European Champions, putting them second on the all-time list behind Sweden who have won four.

READ MORE: Looking ahead to 2014 with a new racquet, fiancé and coach

Back to the training court
The Danes may have iced the Spaniards in the dark and cold recesses of Jutland, but hours earlier, Caroline Wozniacki had been ousted by the young Spanish player Garbine Muguruza in the third round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Once again, Wozniacki failed to live up to the billing as tenth seed, wilting under the hot Australian sun 6-4, 5-7, 3-6 to the 20-year-old Spaniard, who may be ranked 38 in the world, but is considered one of the brightest talents in women’s tennis at the moment.

“I had some chances. I won the first set and was ahead in the second,” Wozniacki said in the press release after the match. “I had break points in several of her service games and I had the opportunity to pull away and ice the game. It happens sometimes. I don’t think I played badly, but she did play really well.”

The defeat will send the Dane out of the top ten in the world rankings, as a first Grand Slam triumph continues to look like a distant mirage.

For now, it’s back to the drawing board and training courts with her new Swedish coach Thomas Högstedt.

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