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01.10.2012, 17:49
Serbia search ideal EHF EURO form
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Left back Damnjanovic stresses importance of build-up and tests against Croatia
 

Serbia search ideal EHF EURO form

With two months to go until the start of the eagerly awaited 2012 Women's EHF European Championship, tournament hosts Serbia have gathered in Belgrade to start their build-up for the 16-nation event, to be staged in the same four cities which hosted the men’s EHF EURO 2012 in January – Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and Vrsac.

In an exclusive interview with eurohandball.com, Serbia’s left back Sanja Damnjanovic (pictured right) pointed out the importance of the team’s two test matches against neighbours Croatia during the women's national team week from October 1 to 7.

They will meet in Serbia’s central town of Petrovac na Mlavi on October 4 and again two days later to see where they stand at the moment.

“The Croatian team will be incomplete as some of their key players will be missing, but every game in the build-up counts and we are certainly looking at two very tough matches because they have plenty of quality in their ranks,” Damnjanovic said.

“Winning one or both games would be a tremendous confidence boost because we have often underperformed at big events in recent history.

"Knowing that we are good enough to play against the world’s top teams, I can only assume that we were mentally unprepared for the challenge and hence it is vital to reassure ourselves during the build-up to the EHF EURO 2012 that we are capable of giving our fans something to cheer about in what will be a fiercely competitive tournament,” added Damnjanovic, who plays club handball for Croatian champions Podravka Vegeta.

Serbia were drawn in a tough Group A in Belgrade alongside world, European and Olympic champions Norway, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Damnjanovic acknowledged Serbia’s first priority was to get through to the Main Round.

“It’s been a while since we made it past the Preliminary Round in any major event so we have to take it one step at a time.

"Frenetic fan support on home soil makes anything possible but this generation intended to peak at next year’s World Championship in Serbia, before the Netherlands pulled out from hosting this year’s European Championship and we were awarded the privilege to organise the event.

We now have to exceed our own expectations and the hard work begins here,” she said.

“We have to click as soon as the tournament starts and while the home fans can help us do that, we have to sort out in our heads during the build-up period how good we are and how far we can get.”

Vital to play games at full throttle, says Lekic

Pack leader Andrea Lekic, who reached the Champions League final with her club Gyori Audi ETO last season, concurred that the two games against Croatia would be an ideal test for the European Championship hosts.

“The doubleheader will show where we stand and what departments we need to improve in, so it’s vital to play these games at full throttle because we don’t have too much time or too many games in the build-up period to hit top form.

"We have to make every minute of every practice session and every friendly match count because we have a mountain to climb, if we are to do well at the EHF EURO 2012.

"If we get past the Preliminary Round, we will take it one game at a time and hopefully get into a position to spring a surprise,” Lekic told a press conference in Belgrade.

Croatia dreams of bringing home a medal

Croatia’s Maja Zebic (pictured right), who plays for Serbian champions RK Zajecar, was one of her country’s key players at the London Olympics.

Croatia reached the quarter-finals at the 2012 Games after some impressive performances and while Zebic rued their bad luck in a tight quarter-final defeat by Spain, she stressed that the team had every chance of winning their first medal as an independent nation at the EHF EURO 2012, if they shrugged the pressure of doing well off their shoulders.

“We need to go to Serbia relaxed and focused on playing our best handball, in which case we could enjoy a podium finish, if our fans can lower their expectations.

"It’s our dream to bring a medal back home but the fact that everyone expects us to do that when we qualify for a major even brings too much pressure to what is otherwise a very good and balanced team,” Zebic told Croatian media.

Croatia are in a delicately balanced Group C in Novi Sad, alongside Germany, Spain and Hungary.

'Put our hearts on the sleeve' says Boskovic

Serbia’s coach Sasa Boskovic and Serbia Handball Federation (RSS) president Velimir Marjanovic also stressed the importance of doing well on home soil, in more ways than one.

“If we are to receive the fan support we require in Belgrade’s imposing Kombank Arena, we must put our hearts on the sleeve from the very first minute of the opening game because one has to earn the loyalty and commitment of supporters.

"If we can look at ourselves in the mirror after every match and say that we’ve done our best, the fans will know how to appreciate our effort and they will get behind us whether we are winning or losing,” said Boskovic.

Marjanovic added: “We have faith in this team and we also have faith that the fans will turn up in numbers, like they did for the Men’s EHF EURO 2012 in January. That’s why we decided to spend this week in Petrovac, so that we can draw fan allegiance across Serbia and not just in Belgrade.

"The big picture is to make women’s handball in Serbia as popular as men’s handball and to achieve that we must take the game to every corner of the country in order to lay the foundations for future generations of players.”   


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / ts
 
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