European Playoffs for 2009 World Championships: Controversy in Sarajevo

This past weekend saw the return leg matches for Europe’s 7 remaining spots for the 2009 World Championships that will take place in Croatia next January. 6 of those 7 tickets have been punched, but the winner of the Hungary – Bosnia & Herzegovina play will have to await a ruling from the EHF. At the outset of the two game playoff Hungary was a strong favorite to beat Bosnia, which despite it’s handball pedigree as a member of the former Yugoslavia is still a struggling nation state trying to shake off the conflicts of the 1990’s. But in the first match, Hungary only managed a two goal ,27-25 victory at home, rightly giving Bosnia reason to be optimistic for the return leg in front of a boisterous crowd in Sarajevo.

The second leg, however, did not go the Bosnian’s way as visiting Hungary took an 18-12 lead at halftime. In the second half, Bosnia staged a comeback, cutting the lead to 27-24 with 12 minutes to play. At that point in the match a Bosnian player was called for a charge on the left wing. As he tried to slip between two defenders, one of the Hungarian defenders clearly took the brunt of the charge, while the other defender tried to stop the Bosnian’s upper torso. The result was the Bosnian taking a pretty good fall, even though, at least in this viewer’s opinion, the charge was still the proper call.

Needless to say the Bosnian fans didn’t like it and when a Bosnian player was called for 2 minutes shortly thereafter the fans started to throw debris onto the court. The youtube video shows some of the on court discussion which resulted in the Hungarian team leaving the court, the Bosnian coach addressing the crowd and the Swedish EHF delegate trying to talk to the crowd in English. Best I can tell from the video the crowd continues to throw items and he makes an on the spot decision that “the game is closed.”

Youtube video #1:
Youtube video #2:
Youtube video #3:

The EHF has indicated on its website that the “case and its consequences are currently being dealt with by the EHF Disciplinary bodies.” The handball forums are buzzing with all sorts of conspiracy theories and complaints about the officiating by the pair from Iceland. Bosnia is protesting the match on the grounds that the Hungarian team should have returned to the court and that the EHF delegate could have done more to restart the match. Throwing aside the officiating, it’s likely that the EHF will rule in favor of Hungary as Bosnia would have had to win by 3 goals to win the playoff on aggregate. While it’s in the realm of possibility that Bosnian could have made up the 6 goal deficit it would have been unlikely.

In other matches, Macedonia lost by only 6 goals, 30-24 in Reykjavik, to beat Iceland by an overall aggregate of two goals. This puts Iceland in the unique situation of qualifying for the 12 team Olympic field, but failing to qualify for the 24 team World Championship field. Also joining Macedonia will be fellow former Yugoslavia Republic, Serbia, which tied the Czech Republic on overall aggregate, but squeaks in due to the more away goals tiebreaker. Not so fortunate are Montenegro and Slovenia which each lost by 1 goal on aggregate against Romania and Slovakia respectively. Also qualifying are Poland, Russia, Norway and Spain.

Complete results:

Editor’s Note: If anyone want to chime in with what the Bosnian announcers and the players are saying in their post game interviews (video 3) please do so.