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21.01.2013, 11:47
Rattled Serbia face daunting task
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EHF EUR0 2012 runners-up to tackle World Championship hosts Spain
 

Rattled Serbia face daunting task

Three successive World Championship wins against South Korea, Belarus and Saudi Arabia gave Serbia the impression that winning their Preliminary Round group would be plain sailing, but agonising defeats by Poland and Slovenia in their final two games meant they are heading for a Round of 16 clash against hosts Spain instead of an arguably more appealing encounter with Egypt.

Having conceded a goal on the buzzer in the 25:24 loss to the Poles before they threw away a three-goal advantage in the closing stages of a 33:31 setback against the Slovenians, the Serbs appear to be unnerved and resigned to the fact that they have only a minimal chance against the Spaniards.

The tournament hosts were beaten by Croatia 27:25 in their final group match but the consequences of their defeat seem to be much less damaging, as it seems to have given them perhaps an easier route to the semi-finals by avoiding a heavyweight last-eight clash with holders France.

"It will be difficult to get the spirits high again after these two defeats, which I am also to blame for because I gave in to the egos of some of the stalwarts who insisted to be on the court at crunch time although I had other ideas," Serbia coach Veselin Vuković told the country’s media after seeing his team falter against Slovenia.

"We haven’t given up hope but it will be very difficult to beat Spain after all the disarray that has crept into the players’ heads.

"It will take a monumental effort to bring the best from the team now because their spirits are down and we have to keep up with Spain’s high-tempo game for the full 60 minutes.

"At this point, I am just not sure we have it in us. We stayed with them for 50 minutes at the London Olympics only to give away four easy goals and lose the match," he said.

Against top-level opposition in the World Championship as well as in the Olympic Games six months ago, Serbia looked a pale shadow of the team that won the silver medal at EHF EURO 2012 on home court.

While captain Momir Ilic and goalkeeper Darko Stanić spearheaded the effort in Belgrade’s Kombank Arena, lack of leadership has been painfully obvious in Spain and Vukovic idfentified it as one of the key problems.

"We don’t have a player capable of taking matters into his own hands and steering the team in the home straight, which is something we have to work on in the future,“ the coach emphasised.

"I have to talk to each of them individually and see what’s going on because we keep making the same basic mistakes," Vuković added.

Stanić turned things round for Serbia against the Slovenians in the second half when he braved a back injury to replace Ivan Gajić between the posts and produce a string of superb saves.

But even he was helpless in the dying minutes and hinted after the game that he might quit the national team after the World Championships.

"I came here unfit and injured my back as a result. We can’t get our hopes too high in the match against Spain but we have to play our hearts out because we owe that much to ourselves," he said.

Home court advantage a crucial factor

When asked if he would carry on playing for the national team, Stanić said: "I need a break but I don’t know if that means putting a curtain on my national team career.

"I will decide in the next month or two but we certainly need to bring in more young players.

"I think the kids should be given a chance and I will make myself available if we build a team capable of making an impact," Stanić said.

The goalkeeper also acknowledged the home court advantage was the crucial factor in Serbia’s EHF EURO success.

"We have thrown games away here in Spain because we lack confidence while the fans carried us in the European Championship and helped us overcome that barrier.

"We clicked perfectly in Belgrade and didn’t suffer dips in form which cost us so dearly against Poland and Slovenia," he pointed out.    

"I always believe in miracles and anything can happen against Spain but it would be audacious to promise a win because they are the hosts and beating them would represent the shock of the tournament," Stanić said in conclusion.

Photos: EHF and courtesy of IHF photographer Uros Hocevar


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / ts
 
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