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24.06.2013, 09:44
Serbia and Croatia relish EHF EURO 2014 challenge
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Coaches looking forward to battle for another podium finish
 

Serbia and Croatia relish EHF EURO 2014 challenge

The EHF EURO 2014 draw has resulted in four delicately balanced groups and there is little doubt that the 16-nation tournament in Denmark is poised to produce fascinating handball from 12 to 26 January 2014, with the host nation aiming to retain the crown they won in Serbia in 2012.

The Danes will be strong favourites to win their preliminary round pool including Czech Republic, Austria and FYR Macedonia, one of the four former Yugoslav nations taking part in the upcoming European Championship.

Denmark and the Macedonians being pitted together in group 1 in Herning brought back instant memories of their epic main round clash in Belgrade’s Kombank Arena, when the Danes clawed a crucial 33:32 win from the jaws of defeat en route to winning the gold medal.

"This group is definitely what we wanted before the draw. Certainly most of us want to play against Serbia, but anyway Denmark is a main contender for first place, and we have a real chance for second place," says Naumce Mojsovski, one of the major players in the squad.

Head coach Ivica Obrvan will have both wingers, Dejan Manaskov and Goce Georgievski, and goalkeeper Petre Angelov available after spells on the sideline with injury and he is confident after the draw.

"Apart from Denmark, who are the favourites in our group, the other two teams are the ones we wanted before the draw. The most important thing is to prepare well and all the players to be healthy.

"I see the duels with Austria and the Czech Republic will be key for our progression to the main round and it would be nice if we enter it with two points.

In the second round, however, except for Spain, all others are equal in quality, so it is difficult to present something concrete to say," said Obrvan.Serbia, who finished as runners-up on home court were handed a tough preliminary round pool in Aarhus including reigning Olympic champions, France, Russia and Poland. 

Having disappointed at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2013 World Championship in Spain, the Serbians then flirted with elimination in the EHF EURO 2014 qualifiers before Ljubomir Vranješ took over from Veselin Vuković as coach and steered the ship into calm waters with crunch victories against Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Serbia willing to shine, backed by luck and will-power

Vranješ, who hinted he would carry on in a dual role as the coach of Serbia as well as Bundesliga side SG Flensburg-Handewitt, heaped praise on Serbia’s Group 3 rivals but stressed he expected his side to shine on the big stage and be among the medal contenders.

"France have been one of the best handball teams in the world for a long time, Poland are always a tough nut to crack and we know how good the Russians are because we played them twice in the qualifiers," former Sweden centre back Vranješ told Serbian media and the country’s handball federation after the draw.

"Every team taking part in the tournament will be packed with talent and experience but we are a quality side too and I expect the team to show that in Denmark. We will need a bit of luck and a lot of will-power," he added.

Serbia’s prolific right back Marko Vujin acknowledged his team would have to be at their best if they are to advance into the Main Round, featuring two groups of six in Aarhus and Herning.

"It’s a tough group and any talk about France would be superfluous because they kept raising the bar in the last seven or eight years.

"Russia and Poland, on the other hand, are teams whose style of play suits us although we were hoping for an easier preliminary round pool.

"However, you have to beat the best if you want a podium finish and in order to do that we have to reproduce the kind of form that saw us flourish in Belgrade 2012," said the THW Kiel right back.

Cautious Croatia want to be among medal contenders

Croatia, the EHF EURO 2012 bronze medal winners, will lock horns with fellow former Yugoslavs Montenegro in Group 4 in Copenhagen, also including Belarus and Sweden.

The Croatians, who also finished third in the 2012 Olympics and the 2013 World Championship in Spain, should be too strong for their preliminary round rivals although their coach Slavko Goluža struck a note of caution against complacency.

"It looks good but we have to stay focused and bear in mind that our rivals knocked out some very good teams to reach the European Championship finals," Goluža told daily Sportske Novosti.  

"Outfits like Germany and Slovenia were among the casualties so we have every reason to take our opponents seriously, hence we will underestimate no one," he emphasised.

"We always want to be among the medal winners and making the most of a very short time span to prepare for EHF EURO 2014 will be crucial," said Goluža, who will be eager to continue his medal-winning streak.

Montenegro look at a bright handball future

Montenegro sent shockwaves throughout Europe when they beat Germany in the qualifiers to seal their berth and effectively knocked out the former European and world champions.

Montenegro’s handball federation sports director Blažo Lisičić said he was convinced coach Zoran Kastratović would stay in charge of a young team which exceeded expectations in the qualifiers.

"The success is all the more admirable given that we were missing some experienced players and the youngsters who came through showed that Montenegrin handball has a very bright future," Lisičić told the MINA news agency. 

"Kastratović has achieved excellent results with the national team and deserves the lion’s share of the credit for reaching yet another major tournament. He has the handball federation’s full confidence," added Lisičić.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / ts
 
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