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11.01.2012, 11:25
Opening two games crucial for Serbia
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Vukovic: We can afford no slip-ups in the early stages.
 

Opening two games crucial for Serbia

With only a few days left to the eagerly awaited EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia, the host nation is in the final stage of its preparations to enter what should be a fiercely competitive 16-team tournament.

Having beaten the Czech Republic 31:23 behind closed doors in their Kovilovo training camp on the outskirts of Belgrade, the Serbs take on the same rivals on Wednesday in the Pionir Arena, where they will open their European Championship campaign with a Preliminary Round Group A match against Poland on Sunday.

Coach Veselin Vukovic told reporters just how important it is for Serbia to get off to a good start in order to stay on course for the country’s first podium finish as an independent nation.

"The first two games, against Poland and Denmark, could be crucial for our ambitions and we have to fire on all cylinders against these rivals. If we win one of these two matches and beat Slovakia in our final Preliminary Round Group A match, we have a great chance of qualifying for the medal rounds," Vukovic said.

"I don’t think the fact that some of our rivals will be missing a few players through injury will make things any easier for us. It is only likely to galvanise their replacements to play their hearts out for their countries and actually make things more difficult. We have to give all we have in each and every game in the European Championship because we are not on the same level with teams such as France, and Spain, who can afford to keep something in the tank in the early stages to save their best for the medal rounds," he underscored.

Vukovic, who won the gold medal with the former Yugoslavia in the 1984 Olympics, emphasized he was completely satisfied with the team’s fitness after a demanding build-up period in which the players had to pass challenging tests.

"The players have adhered to everything we have told them and this hasn’t always been the case in previous major events. The results of their individual training are everywhere to be seen and hence our passing in attack is much quicker than it used to be. Minimal changes in our squad have resulted in a substantial improvement as regards the quality of our play," Vukovic stressed.

Serbia’s top player Momir Ilic also pointed out that lapses in concentration, which have often been detrimental to Serbia in major events, could cost them dearly in an unforgiving tournament featuring the world’s elite.

"We had a very good first half in our recent friendly with FYR Macedonia, our fast breaks were efficient and we were also very solid in defence," Ilic said.

"We put our foot off the gas pedal in the second half because we experimented a bit and rotated many players to give everybody a chance to play, but we will have to be fully focused and play our best handball against Poland when the real thing starts because we will be punished if we don’t," he added.

Ilic singled out pivot Bojan Beljanski and veteran Dalibor Cutura as welcome additions to Serbia’s squad, having said the latter had blended in seamlessly into the team.

"I played with him for the first time against the FYR Macedonians and it was if he has been around forever, having created many open shots for me and other team-mates. He is an experienced player and showed that he will be a great bonus for EHF EURO 2012. Beljanski was also very good as he showed exceptional mobility on the six-metre line."

Ilic struggled with a niggling injury earlier this season but performances in the Four Nations Cup and the last two warm-up games against Romania and FYR Macedonia suggest that Serbia’s sharpshooter is ready to lead the team on its home turf.

"I am completely fit and raring to go. I always like to be on the court from start to finish but given that we could play as many as eight matches in just 15 days, having depth in our squad will be essential for a good result in the European Championship," Ilic said.

"The official warm-up match against the Czechs on Wednesday will be an excellent dress rehearsal for the EHF EURO 2012 opener against Poland because these two teams are similar in size and style of play. They both have plenty of big players who enjoy the physical aspect of the game so it will be the perfect test for what’s coming."

There is little time left for the finishing touches but Ilic believes Serbia’s game still leaves a bit to be desired if they are to challenge for one of the medals. "We have to improve in back-tracking when we lose the ball to stop the opposition from materialising fast breaks. There are several other departments where we still need to raise our game," he pointed out.

Further information

Download the Official EHF EURO 2012 Playing Schedule (pdf)

Buy your EHF EURO 2012 tickets HERE.

Ticketing is managed by the Serbian Organising Committees. Should you need further assistance for buying your tickets, please contact via email: tickets@rss.org.rs

Find more information on the tournament on the official website www.ehf-euro.com/SRB2012/

Join the growing community of fans of the event on Facebook www.facebook.com/SRB2012


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic
 
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