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07.10.2014, 10:34
Almost like a national team training
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FEATURE: Sunday’s match between Celje and Montpellier saw the French club’s Slovenian players facing childhood idols and national teammates.
 

Almost like a national team training

Sunday’s VELUX EHF Champions League match between Celje Pivovarna Lasko and Montpellier Agglomeration HB was special in many ways for Montpellier’s Slovenian athletes.

Dragan Gajic, whose first ever handball club was Celje, described the meeting as "a very emotional moment", whilst Gajic’s teammate and compatriot, Vid Kavticnik, noted it was the first time he had faced a Slovenian team since relocating to THW Kiel, his club before Montpellier.

"This was the first time, in nine years abroad, that I played against a Slovenian team," Kavticnik said after the game. "Even when I was in Kiel, I didn't play against any."

Furthermore, Celje's coach, Branko Tamse, has always been a very well-known figure for Kavticnik.

"I've known Branko from when I was playing in Gorenje Velenje, when I was a little boy," he laughs. "I wanted to show my best handball skills, so maybe that's why I felt like I had wings during the second half."

With six goals, Vid Kavticnik finished third best scorer of the game behind the Dragan Gajic machine and Montpellier’s left back Mathieu Grebille.

"As soon as I stepped on the court, I felt good. I scored on my first shot, then off I went!" recalls Kavticnik. "This game was a lot of fun. Not too much ugly contact and hearing Slovenian all around – it felt like a national team training at some points."

A Slovenian reunion

There were even familiar faces from the Slovenian handball family amongst the spectators. Miha Zvizej, the brother of Celje's left winger Luka, was in the stands enjoying what felt like a family reunion.

"For the first time, Luka’s playing in France, so it felt normal to come and say hello!" said Zvizej, line player for Fenix Toulouse.

"We all stayed and chatted for a long while after the game," said Dragan Gajic. "We don't see each other too often, so it was a chance to catch up with what's going on in each other's lives."

Young Slovenians coming through

When asked about the Slovenia national team, Gajic praised Celje's young generation.

"I knew a couple of players personally thanks to our adventure in January at the Euro, but the ones I didn't know are all very talented, and if they keep playing and making progress like they have recently, they will soon be in command," he says, enthusiastically.

"Miha Zarabec for instance, is a great player. How he plays at 22 shows how far he can go. Even though he's still got work ahead of him, he has the potential to be an important player for Slovenia," Gajic added.

Despite the match being held far from home, Celje’s devoted crew of supporters made the trip. A group of around 50 fans were present in the Montpellier arena, which was no surprise to Kavticnik.  

"I think that after our strong performance at the World Championship 2013 in Spain, handball has become popular again in my country," he explains.

"Everybody talked about handball in 2004 after our second place at the EURO, then interest lessened, but now, I think there is great potential for the national team to make handball even more popular. Fans are backing their teams all across Europe and they're all very friendly, which is important for our image as well."


TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg
 
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