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14.02.2013, 12:22
The rising handball stars of 2013, part 4: Stipe Mandalinić
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The 20-year-old Croatian's career has been spiralling almost only in one direction - upwards
 

The rising handball stars of 2013, part 4: Stipe Mandalinić

On 27 January 2008 in Norway, Croatia played the EHF EURO final against Denmark.

After 60 minutes the team had gone down 20:24, but almost 2,000 kilometres away, in Croatia, a 15-year-old boy sat in front of the television, watching his idols play: Stipe Mandalinić.

He was a keen basketballer back then but his father had recommended to him to try out handball.

"I was looking at Croatia winning and playing well during that tournament and I decided it would be nice to start playing handball," remember Mandalinić.

"So I went to HC Split, started training and liked it very much from the beginning."

Just two years later, in 2010, he was on his way to his first international tournament, the 2010 Mediterranean Handball Championship in Bar, Montenegro, which Mandalinić and the Croatian national team cadets left with the silver medal.

Ever since Mandalinić's career has been spiralling almost only in one direction – upwards.

Also in 2010, he won his first gold medal when Croatia's men's 18 national team took the title at the Men's 18 European Championship in August.

At the 2011 Youth Handball World Championship Croatia and Mandalinić only finished eighth. „But it didn't take us long to get back to the top again,“ the 20-year-old says.

At the 2012 Men's 20 European Championship in Turkey, Croatia was left with silver after losing to Spain in the final, but Mandalinić was awarded 'Most Valuable Player' as well as best left back of the tournament.

And then came the most important step in his handball life so far, as the 2013 World Championship marked the first opportunity for him to play for Croatia's senior national team.

"It was a great experience for me. I was very happy when coach Slavko Goluža called me for the preparations, but when he said that I am on the final list for Spain I was delighted.

"The atmosphere in the national team was perfect, we were all like one man and this surely is one of the biggest experiences in my career."

It is not long ago that he watched great handball goalkeeper's like Denmark's Niklas Landin or France's Thierry Omeyer on TV, but now he has scored against them.

"I spoke with the whole team, especially with Blaženko Lacković, before each match and they told me that I have to play everytime on top level, no matter who the opponent is and that have no fear because I am representing Croatia."

A young player, critical of himself

However, there is not much time to relax after the World Championship and to enjoy the achievements.

The VELUX EHF Champions League in 2013 started with a 23:25 loss (Mandalinić scored six goals) at home against Dinamo Minsk that sees Mandalinić 's club, HC Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb, sitting at the bottom of the six-team group with three points but still with chances to make it to the last 16.

But Zagreb have to face group leaders FC Barcelona Intersport in a difficult away match on Saturday (16 February).

"I believe in us. Speaking of other teams I think Kiel and Barcelona are the main favourites, but I believe there will be surprises such as Kielce or Celje."

Although he is playing very good this year, he also remains critical of himself.

"I think I need to improve in defence very much and need to gain the confidence of coach and the whole team.

"I believe that this is the part of the game where I have a lot of space to improve.

"My strong sides are, I guess, my jump shots but I know that I need to improve in attack, too."

There is plenty of time for the 20-year-old. Croatia's rising star's next chance to shine in the national team will be the EHF EURO 2014 qualification matches against Hungary in early April.


*This is the fourth part of a new series powered by eurohandball.com. In the weeks to come we will throw the spotlight on the many young handball talents all around Europe that are likely to make an impact on the international stage in the months and years to come.


TEXT: Bruno Pinević / ts
 
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