Neck-and-neck race in Belgrade

New Zealand and Serbia fight for gold at the World U20 Championship Division III.

22.01.2008
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New Zealand and Serbia will play each other the first time on junior level. Pictured: the last clash of their senior teams in 2004.

BELGRADE, Serbia - The mission is clear for Serbia’s U20 national team. At home in Belgrade, they want to be back at Division II level after last season’s relegation in Elektrenai, Lithuania. And the Serbs have been doing well until now. They reached promotion together with New Zealand and face each other for the gold medals.

After an easy 16-0 start against neighbours Bulgaria, the Serbs beat South Africa (10-1), Australia (5-0), and Armenia (6-0) smoothly. Zvezdan Vidakovic let the puck in just one time and is the leading goalkeeper with a 98.48 save percentage.

Only one team seems to be a potential danger for the hosts: New Zealand. The Kiwis won also all four games so far. They allowed more goals than the Serbs, eight, but scored 54 and are leading the tournament thanks to a better goal differential.

The entertaining New Zealanders are leading the scoring and plus-minus. Christopher Eaden is top scorer with 12 goals and 11 assists in four games. Yesterday, New Zealand screwed up its courage before tomorrow’s clash against Serbia with a 7-2 win over archrivals Australia, who are usually the better-ranked team.

It will be the first time tomorrow, that teams of those countries face each other on junior level and in general the first time for four years, when their senior national teams played each other. At the 2004 World Championship Division II Group B – another trip to Elektrenai for the current hosts – Serbia-Montenegro beat the Kiwis 20-2. It seems to be a more delicate issue for the Serbs tomorrow night.

However, the teams were not only fighting for gold but also for the two promotion spots. Even though Australia and the surprising Armenians can still reach the 12 points of the two leading teams, they cannot overtake them anymore after losing the mutual games against both. Hence, they play for the remaining places with South Africa, Turkey and Bulgaria.

Click here for the tournament's coverage.

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