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02.01.2014, 18:40
Croatia target the only thing missing
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EHF EURO COUNTDOWN: The national team is ready and in top shape to finally collect the gold medal that has so far eluded them at EHF EURO events
 

Croatia target the only thing missing

Head coach Slavko Goluza had nothing to worry about when he lately named his squad for Croatia's final EHF EURO preparations - all players in question are healthy.

In particular, Blazenko Lackovic was getting better and only Drago Vukovic complained about small issues.

Therefore, the main concerns for Goluza will be to freshen up his team after the preparations and the difficult first part of the season, while the players themselves have to build up the right mood and excitement ahead of a major tournament.

Duvnjak the best leader for the upcoming youngsters

Croatia will be led by their stalwarts such as captain Igor Vori, the 'Croatian octopus' between the posts, Mirko Alilovic, wing players Ivan Cupic and Manuel Strlek, defence specialist Jakov Gojun, the top shooters Marko Kopljar and Blazenko Lackovic and, of course, by one of the arguably best handball players in the world: Domagoj Duvnjak.

The current winner of the EHF Champions League with his team HSV Hamburg is currently playing some of the best handball of his life.

On the other hand, Duvnjak has assumed the role of being a model for the young Croatian talents.

He himself has learnt from playmaker Ivano Balic and his new young teammates, who will lead the squad with 'Dule' in years to come, have much to learn from the Croatian star.

Players like Stipe Mandalinic and Luka Stepancic are the ones to watch in the upcoming years, Mandalinic might even get the chance to take to the court at the EHF EURO in Denmark.

"Let the others worry about us"

The first encounter in Group D at the EHF EURO will see Croatia face Belarus at the Brondby Hallen in Copenhagen's west on 13 January.

"Their main driving force is (Siarhei) Rutenka, and if he has a good day, Belarus have a good chance to win.

"If we manage to stop him we have done 90 per cent of the job," explained goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic.

Montenegro are the next opponents after which the duel against Sweden forms something like the icing on the cake on the preliminary round's last day (17 January).

The Croatian players are especially wary of that third match as Sweden will be supported by many fans who just have to cross the Oresund bridge to get to Copenhagen.

"Montenegro are a team which was better than Germany in the qualification, it will not be easy against them but our greatest rivals in the group are certainly Sweden.

"Nevertheless, we have to think only about ourselves and let others worry about us," said coach Goluza.

"The most important is the first game where we have to take a win in order to raise the atmosphere in our team.

"Later in the competition we have to face a difficult group so it is crucial to collect the maximum number of points during the first stage," said Marko Kopljar.

Chase the missing European gold

With the European, World and Olympic bronze around their necks - all won in the past 18 months-, Croatia are now targeting the missing EHF EURO gold.

Twice they have been close, at the EHF EURO 2008 they lost the final against Denmark and two years later France had the upper hand in the end.

However, Croatia's coach remains careful: "At the EHF EURO there are no easy opponents, so we have to take it one game at a time, without relaxing.

"If we are at our best we will make it to the finals and then details, like the mood of players or the inspiration of goalkeeper, decide.

"My players are highly motivated, have a great desire for playing, for handball, and we all together want to take it a step further at the EHF EURO in Denmark."

Croatia will play two test matches against Tunisia in Umag on 5 and 6 January. Goluza said that he will name the final 16 players only shortly before the tournament.

"Only the players that are completely healthy and in top form will be travelling to Denmark.

"Each and every one of them had the first half of the season to prove themselves and to gain my trust for the preparation part, but of course the ones that have been a part of the national team for years now, have a slight advantage," he said.


TEXT: Zvonka Kelis / ts
 
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