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22.04.2015, 11:22
Babic: "It's up to us to confirm our ambitions"
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PREVIEW: Croatia are hoping to secure the EHF EURO 2016 berth against Norway, in a bid turn the page with the new coach after disappointing performances at their last two events
 

Babic: "It's up to us to confirm our ambitions"

Croatia’s national team is hoping for a fresh start after missing out on a medal at the EHF EURO 2014 and their disappointing World Championship 2015 campaign.

The event in Qatar saw one of the odds-on semi-final favourites finish only sixth, resulting in head coach Slavko Goluza’s resignation.

Newly installed coach Zeljko Babic is no stranger to the Croatian national team, being the assistant coach on no less than two occasions in the past, while both Slavko Goluza and Lino Cervar were at the helm.

Babic will make his competitive debut on the Croatian bench in the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification against Norway in Stavanger (29 April).

Utmost respect for Norway

Norway is arguably the biggest rival for the top spot in Group 3, after the Croatian team recorded dominant wins against the Netherlands (35:24) and Turkey (33:22).

"Norway is a team we must approach with the utmost respect and seriousness. It is up to us to confirm our ambition, finish the qualifications with maximum points and remain on the first place in the group," said Zeljko Babic for hrs.hr.

With four points in the bag, Croatia find themselves on top of the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Group 3, on the virtue of having a better goal difference than their upcoming Scandinavian opponents.

"We must err on the side of caution in the upcoming matches, because we are facing the toughest opponent the group.

"The first and foremost goal facing our trip to Stavanger is to determine and set the concept with which we will oppose Norway," added Babic.

Two returns, one debut, no Sulic

The team Babic selected to face Norway in Stavanger before they take the game to Varazdin (3 May) offers little in way of surprise – yet enduring several changes in comparison to the team that played at the World Championship.

Lovro Sprem has been overlooked, while Ivan Nincevic, Zeljko Musa, Sandro Obranovic, Ivan Pesic, Damir Bicanic and Josip Valcic remain on the reserve list ready to step in, in case of any injuries.

However, the largely debated return of the experienced line player Renato Sulic to the national team is still some way from happening, as the MKB-MVM Veszprem star is not present on the current squad list.

The experienced centre back Drago Vukovic found his way back into the national team following some eye-catching performances in for TuS N-Lübbecke, alongside line player Marino Maric, who recently impressed playing for MT Meslungen in the German Bundesliga.

"The two (Vukovic and Maric) have earned the place in the team with their Bundesliga form of late, and I expect them to show effort and performances to match," said 42-year old Babic.

Babic must have been impressed by the performances of HC PPD Zagreb who made it to the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final this season, having selected no less than five players from the Croatian powerhouse - Filip Ivic, Zlatko Horvat, Luka Stepancic, Ilija Brozovic, including the debutant left winger Antonijo Kovacevic.

"Kovacevic made progress in the VELUX EHF Champions League and will be a good alternative on the left wing, alongside Manuel Strlek," said Babic.

"Norway will host Croatia in Stavanger on Wednesday, 29 April, while the two teams will meet again four days later in Varazdin, on Sunday, 3 May.

Croatia national team to face Norway in the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification:

Goalkeepers: Mirko Alilovic (MKB-MVM Veszprem), Filip Ivic (HC PPD Zagreb)

Wing players: Manuel Strlek (KS Vive-Tauron Kielce), Antonijo Kovacevic (HC PPD Zagreb), Zlatko Horvat (HC PPD zagreb), Ivan Cupic (KS Vive-Tauron Kielce)

Back court players: Marko Kopljar (Paris Saint-Germain Handball), Luka Stepancic (HC PPD Zagreb), Domagoj Duvnjak (THW Kiel), Ivan Sliskovic (RK celje Pivovarna Lasko), Jakov Gojun (Paris Saint-Germain Handball), Drago Vukovic (TuS N-Lübbecke), Igor Karacic (RK Vardar)

Line players: Igor Vori (Paris Saint-Germain Handball), Marino Maric (MT Meslungen), Ilija Brozovic (HC PPD Zagreb)


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / ts
 
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