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02.12.2013, 11:58
Reaching the EHF EURO already a success for Montenegro
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ANALYSIS: With the first milestone already achieved, Montenegrin handball experts explain what it will take to spring the next surprise at the final tournament in Denmark
 

Reaching the EHF EURO already a success for Montenegro

Six years after their debut at the tournament in Norway, Montenegro's men's national team will play again at EHF EURO event.

The EHF EURO in Denmark is the second participation at this level in the nation's short history of independence, and by coincidence they will travel once more to a Scandinavian country.

Six years ago - on the road to Norway - Montenegro left behind Finland, Netherlands, Austria in the first qualification phase and ultimately beat Portugal in the play-offs, but the qualification challenge appeared much more difficult this time, with Germany, Czech Republic and Israel being the opponents in Group 2.

However, the team, led by coach Zoran Kastratovic, became probably the biggest surprise of the qualifiers, beating Germany twice to knock them out of the competition and finishing second behind Czech Republic.

The key victory came in November 2012 in Mannheim against Germany (31:27), a feat which they repeated in front of their home fans with a 27:25 win.

"If the game in Mannheim was a surprise, then we certainly shocked people with the result in Podgorica. It is needless to mention what a success this is," Kastratovic said later on. "Perhaps in the coming years we will be aware of what we have done against Germany."

With such an unexpected surprise, the place among the best 16 European teams is already a great success for Montenegro, especially because it is the second consecutive major tournament for the nation, after Montenegro had also reached the World Championship 2013 in Spain.

"The team and the coaching staff have done a great job in the EHF EURO Qualification. They played superbly, with a lot of heart and dedication. For the men's national team it is important to have a continuity of playing major competitions," says Pero Milosevic, the first men’s national team coach following the nation's independence, who led Montenegro to the EHF EURO 2008.

"I have always said that we have the quality to do it, though some individuals were of a different oppinion. I was a good predictor."

At EHF EURO 2008 itself Ranko Popovic was in charge, steering the team to a main round berth.

"The guys play well, (they) fight"

In January, six years later, Montenegro will play Croatia, Sweden and Belarus in Group D of the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark.

"Let’s be realistic, every victory in Denmark would be a success, not to mention if the team makes it into the main round. I wish them better performances than they had at the World Championship in Spain (where they came 22nd in the end, ed.)," Milosevic says.

The tournaments in Norway and Spain showed that Montenegro so far did not possess the quality and the strength for tournament-style competition with multiple matches over two to two-and-a-half weeks.

The qualification, with its two matches in a few days' period, and also play-off matches - Montenegro eliminated Sweden in the play-offs for the World Championship 2013 - proved to be the successful format for them.

Former national team player Alen Muratovic, arguably one of the best ever Montenegro handball players, who recently returned to play for Spanish side Frigoríficos Morrazo Cangas after more than a four-year  break due to a serious right shoulder injury, is nevertheless very satisfied with the performances of Montenegro team.

"The results are more than good. The guys play well, (they) fight and, most importantly, they play at the major competitions. This continuity of playing major competitions is important.

"It’s a chance for young players to become more experienced. Everybody in the team, including the coaching staff, is doing great, I hope they will continue doing so."

At EHF EURO 2008 in Norway, Muratovic was top scorer of the group phase with 24 goals. He retired after Montenegro failed to qualify for the World Championship 2009.

"The group is tough, but the guys proved so far that they can play against anyone. With a little luck, I think they can go to the main round. But since it’s a young team, for Montenegro it is already a success to be at EHF EURO.

"It’s important the team continues to fight as it has done so far, it takes time for good results on major competitions."

Changes in the air

Compared to the team who played at the World Championship in Spain, Kastratovic will probably make some changes for the EHF EURO 2014, with intention to continue rejuvenating the team.

Judged by the players who were nominated at the end of the qualification phase and for the national team week in November, some stalwarts, such as Zoran Roganovic, Vladimir Osmajic, Marko Pejovic, Marko Pejovic and Goran Lasica, could miss out, although Kastratovic continues to state that nobody is written off as of yet.

New names on Kastratovic’s list are left wing Milan Popovic, right wing Igor Radojevic, and left back Vuko Borozan.

If they do not encounter injury problems, the three goalkeepers, Rade Mijatovic, Marko Rajkovic and Nebojša Simic should be safe to go.

They could be joined by wing players Igor Markovic, Milan Popovic, Marko Lasica and Mirko Radovic, the two line players Mladen Rakcevic and Nemanja Grbovic, and back court players Drasko Mrvaljevic, Vasko Sevaljevic, Stevan Vujovic, Mirko Milasevic, Zarko Pejovic, Ivan Perisic and Vladan Lipovina.

However, Kastratović already said that only fit players will go to Denmark, because he do not want the World Championship situation repeat itself, when captain Drasko Mrvaljevic did not play due to an injury, although he was part of the team for the entire tournament.


TEXT: Saša Jončić / ts
 
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