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26.11.2013, 09:57
Vranjes believes in Serbian EHF EURO success
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ANALYSIS: The former interim coach, who steered Serbia to the final tournament, crosses his fingers for yet another semi-final berth
 

Vranjes believes in Serbian EHF EURO success

They arrive in Denmark with high hopes and they arrive as the silver medallists from the previous Men’s EHF EURO: Serbia, host of the 2012 edition, have made it back to the main stage of international men’s handball.

The silver medal they won on home court granted them a place at the Olympic qualification tournament and subsequently at the Olympics and the ticket to the World Championship 2013 – but in London as well as in Spain they lacked the luck, passion and precision they had shown on home court and missed the quarter-final on both occasions.

The era of coach Veselin Vukovic, the mastermind behind the silver success in 2012, came to an end, when Serbia were in danger of missing the EHF EURO 2014.

While the qualification was still going, he was replaced by Ljubomir Vranjes who has Serbian roots.

The coach of German side SG Flensburg-Handewitt took over, qualified for Denmark  – and in Serbia they hoped that the former world class playmaker would continue his mission at the EHF EURO.

But the negotiations failed and so the EHF EURO 2012 silver medallists needed to look for a new coach and they found him in Slovenia: Vladan Matic, coach of RK Celje, was presented at the end of October.

He will be assisted by former goalkeeper Dejan Peric who also works in Celje.

Serbia's fate to be decided in the opening match

The duo's first two test matches against Czech Republic ended with a draw and a defeat, but the confidence in Serbia is high that they can at least reach the main round in Denmark, despite having been drawn to a strong group with France, Russia and Poland.

They had beaten the Polish team by one goal in the thrilling decisive match for the ticket to the Olympic Games 2012, then they lost to them by one goal margin at the World Championship 2013 in Spain, which meant Serbia had to face the hosts and eventual gold medallists in the Last 16 – a game in which they stood no chance.

Now the opener against Poland is – in Serbian opinion – the most crucial of all three preliminary round matches.

"To clinch the berth for the main round, Serbia need to beat Poland," says Vranjes analysing his former team for ehf-euro.com. "And if they win it, everything is possible."

Vranjes also believes that "this group is tough for all four. Serbia really were unlucky at this draw. An EHF EURO event is always tougher than a World Championship or Olympic Games, but in this case it is more than tough."

Team captain Momir Ilic shares this opinion: "All three (opponents) are really strong. France, I have nothing new to say about them. They have won absolutely everything in handball.

"We have some serious rivalry with Poland. A lot of times the winner of those encounters depends on only one shot. Hopefully, we will be the lucky guys this time in Denmark.

"We beat Russia on their court in qualification, but that means nothing. Only one bad day and everything can change in Denmark."

By looking upon those players nominated by former Serbian international Matic for the test matches against Czech Republic the 'usual suspects' were in the squad, those who have made their mark on Serbian handball for years: Goalkeeper Darko Stanic, defence specialist Nikola Manojlovic, the back court aces Momir Ilic and Marko Vujin and line player Rastko Stojkovic.

Strong shoulders to carry Serbia

"I am sure, Vladan Matic will not experiment before the EHF EURO in Denmark, as the significance of this tournament for the upcoming events is too high. But of course it his decision which players to nominate.

"And in my opinion there are no young or old players, but only good or bad players, regardless of their age," says Vranjes.

"The full responsibility will be on a small number of shoulders. If those top stars are on 100 per cent in Denmark everything is possible, but they need to be fit – and hopefully it is possible that they can rest a little, reload their batteries, replaced by some young guns during some parts of the matches."

Two of those Serbian young guns are in Vranjes’ team in Flensburg: Right wing Bogdan Radivojevic and back court player Drasko Nenadic.

"Those players – and some more – are the future of Serbian handball. But it might be too early for them to expect that they can take the responsibility in Denmark," says Vranjes.

But the former interim coach strongly believes in the team: "They can even win all matches of the preliminary round. Depending on their main round opponents they are even allowed to dream the dream of the semi-final. This is realistic, if those experienced players lead the way."

Ilic focuses exactly on the same points, showing the same self-assurance.

"We have a really strong group, but that won't cause any problems for our 'eagles'. Serbia can win against anyone. Everything depends on our form and how we play.

"We are the 2012 silver medallists from Belgrade, but with a lot of changes in our team in the past two years. We need to stay healthy, as quality in the squad is the base for a good result."

And Vlatan Matic? He is confident for the first major task in his new job: "Coaching Serbia is a great honour and an obligation. Our long-term goal is the qualification for the Olympic Games in Rio 2016. And in Denmark we want to get closer to Rio.

"At first we need to develop step by step – and mainly we only focus on the match against Poland."

Right before the final stage of preparation Matic will reduce his squad to only 18 players – "without experiments", he says, in agreement with his predecessor Vranjes.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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