By Bogdan Pasat

The quarterfinals were off to a big start on Wednesday in Barcelona, where at the Jordi Palace Slovenia took on Russia for a spot in the 2013 Team Handball World Championship semifinals.

As previewed, the teams matched well. However, Slovenia was shocked to find out that their best player in the tournament and team leading scorer, Dragan Gajic, would miss the contest with a muscle injury. The game played out as expected, both teams trading leads until late in the first half when Luka Zvizej converted two seven-meter throws for a 15:13 halftime lead. Russia stormed back in the second half. Shishkarev and Atman gave the Russians a 19:17 lead at 7:33 minute mark.

That turned out to be the last time Russia would lead. In a span of 19 minutes, the Russians received three red cards. Sergei Gorbok was directly disqualified following a rough foul. He was followed by Mikhail Chipurin and Egor Evdokimov, both with 3 - 2 minutes penalty disqualification.

That opened the door for Slovenia who went on a 6:0 run to take a 23:18 lead. And despite a great effort from the Russians, Slovenia was far smarter and more experienced than Brazil, to allow their lead to slip away. Sergei Shelmenko brought the Russians back to 28:27 as time ran out, sending the Slovenian faithful into a frenzy and on to the semis.

Zaragoza, hosted the second game of the day, between host Spain and Germany.

The Germans played outstanding defense and staved off the Spaniards for 54 minutes. Despite taking a 14:12 lead into halftime and allowing Spain only one goal from nine meters all through 60 minutes, they were unable to stop the Rocas and Tomas, the Spanish wings that could. Tomas scored seven times driving the Germans crazy on the fast breaks. Then, when the game counted the most, pivot Julen Aguinaglade (game MVP with seven games) gave Spain the lift they needed to send them through to the semis and a date with Slovenia. Right back Sven-Soren Christophersen led the German attack with six goals. Silvio Heinvetter shined in goal for Germany but his effort was cancelled out by an inspired Manuel Sierra, who replaced Sterbik in goal, early in the first half.

Denmark and Hungary squared off in the third quarterfinal game in Barcelona.

Coming in as the most consistent and dominant team of the tournament, Denmark was the clear favorite. The X factor was Hungary, as in which Hungary would show up.

It took only 21 minutes to figure out that Denmark was on easy street. Leading 12:5 Denmark ran into an unmotivated Magyar squad, who despite repeated pleas from coach Mocsai, was unable to match Laszlo Nagy’s effort (eight goals) except for goalie Roland Mikler (10 saves).

Trailing by seven at halftime (18:11, Hungary closed within three midway through the second half. Denmark’s Niklas Landin outmatched his counterpart goalie, shutting down Hungary with 18 saves. It was too little too late Mocsai’s gang, who could not overcome Danish winger Hans Lindberg’s hot hand (10 goals).

The quarterfinal Wednesday concluded in Zaragoza with the “main bout” between Croatia and France. A veritable final on its own merits, the contest featured two of the most decorated teams over the last decade.

France came in as a slight favorite because the paper and the stats said so.

But the game is played on the court for a reason and despite France’s recent dominance of Croatia, it was revenge time for the 2003 World Champs.

Croatia came in motivated. So much so, that back Drago Vukovic received a direct disqualification 41 seconds into the match. France failed to capitalize on the early momentum swing and fell behind by as many as three goals.

Croatia did well  to frustrate the French attack throughout the first half. But France used Sorhaindo’s inside scoring to make up for their backcourt deficiencies, as Narcisse and Karabatic could not find the net. Croatia’s goalie, Allilovic, was outstanding. He stopped 13 shots and forced a lot of missed shots with his presence. France trailed by one at halftime (13:12) and seemed primed for a strong second half.

Yet, as mentioned in the preview, France did not gel as a unit. The talented roster failed to find that perfect flow and continued to struggle offensively in the second half.  HSV Hamburg center back, Domagoj Duvnjak abused the French defenders with nine goals, most of them coming against France scoring runs. Zlatko Horvat chimed in another five goals for the Croats, who essentially sealed the win in the 24th minute of the second half on a Damir Bicanic goal. France went to the bench, conceding the final score, a categorical 30:23 Croatian victory.

Day off Thursday as the semifinalists prepare for Friday’s games.

Spain vs. Slovenia and Denmark vs. Croatia previews coming Thursday, as both matches will air live on beIN Sport.