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07.06.2015, 21:34
Croatia put the emphasis on defence
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PREVIEW: After a disappointing loss in the previous round of EHF EURO 2016 Qualification against Norway, coach Zeljko Babic knows what his team needs to work on.
 

Croatia put the emphasis on defence

A couple of days after the great Ivano Balic’s last appearance on court, his compatriots have the chance to secure their spot at the EHF EURO 2016.

Croatia currently lead Group 1, and a victory against the Netherlands on 10 June will book their tickets to Poland. The upcoming matches will be the first time head coach Zeljko Babic has led the national team against the Netherlands and Turkey.

Croatia lost their debut with Babic as head coach in the previous round first-leg match against Norway (26:27), before winning against the Scandinavian side on home court (31:25).

The two games were more than enough for Babic to realise what needs improvement: "Defence has to be tougher, more aggressive. We lacked physical contacts in both matches, particularly in the first halves."

"I expect a very tough battle in the away match against the Netherlands," Babic said.

Difficult to keep the game level high

The season has been long and Croatia’s players have many matches under their belt. Four of them (Mirko Alilovic, Manuel Strlek, Ivan Cupic and Domagoj Duvnjak) were part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne at the end of May.

Only one from the national side did not play the VELUX EHF Champions League 2014/15: Marino Maric played the EHF Cup.

"Players are exhausted. It will be really tough to maintain a high level of play," said Babic.

"Even harder training session could be risky in this period, so it will be really important for players to recover as much as possible prior to the qualifications."

New faces in the squad

Centre back Drago Vukovic (TuS N-Lübbecke) has missed selection this time, as has PPD Zagreb's left wing Antonijo Kovacevic.

Babic decided to give two of Croatia’s most talented young players, Marko Mamic and Lovro Mihic (both born in 1994), a chance instead. They led the under-19 national team to the silver medal at the Youth World Championship in 2013 and were selected in the tournament’s All-Star Team.

Both of them have experience playing the VELUX EHF Champions League already, but it will be their debut appearance for the senior national team.

"It is likely they will be given some minutes in the match against the Netherlands. I am not a coach who invites players and then benches them for 60 minutes.

"We will have to rebuild the team for the EHF EURO Croatia will host in 2018. However, it is possible that one or two players will be given a chance as soon as the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland," says Babic.

Croatia squad for the EURO qualification matches against the Netherlands (10 June) and Turkey (14 June):

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

Left wing: Manuel Strlek (KS Vive Tauron Kielce), Lovro Mihic (PPD Zagreb)

Left back: Ivan Sliskovic (RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko), Marko Mamic (Kadetten Schaffhausen)

Centre back: Domagoj Duvnjak (THW Kiel), Igor Karacic (HC Vardar)

Right back: Marko Kopljar (PSG Handball), Luka Stepancic (PPD Zagreb)

Right wing: Ivan Cupic (KS Vive Tauron Kielce), Zlatko Horvat (PPD Zagreb)

Line player: Igor Vori (PSG), Marino Maric (MT Melsungen), Ilija Brozovic (PPD Zagreb), Jakov Gojun (PSG Handball)


TEXT: Tomislav Lauric / cg / ts
 
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