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02.10.2015, 09:40
Enduring friendship among long-time rivals
«Go back »Print Version


FACE TO FACE: Nikcevic and Zvizej have come a long way since they first met in the late 90’s, forging a memorable friendship. However, it will all be set aside for 60 minutes when their teams collide in Celje
 

Enduring friendship among long-time rivals

They know each other since their teens. Playing top-level handball for more than a decade now, with more than 20 VELUX EHF Champions League seasons between them.

Both are in their mid-thirties, however, are key for their teams. They excel among the more physical opponents with speed and intelligence, while their on-court influence has been indispensable.

One is the idol of many aspiring youngsters at Plock, the other a cornerstone of Celje’s new generation.

Luka Zvizej will meet Ivan Nikcevic as RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko host Orlen Wisla Plock in the VELUX EHF Champions League Group A.

“I am very much aware of the peril Wisla pose with their roster. I know them quite well; excellent players - Zelenovic, Nikcevic as well as coach Cadenas, to name a few.

“We will have the strong defence our coach Tamse has taught us. We have to be able to play fast and efficiently, making as few mistakes as possible.

“We do not posses their strength, but we do have a lot of speed and flair on tap,” said Slovenian star Luka Zvizej.

“We have had changes in our roster that need a bit of time to gel. Our defence has changed, but despite the slow start domestically, we are going to be able to shift focus and perform in the Champions League.

“Celje are a compact and cohesive team, bearing some similarities to ours at Wisla. Their home court atmosphere is amazing, I was thrilled when I saw the draw and was eager to play there,” said Nikcevic.

On-court influence

It is no accident the duo has been spotlighted ahead of the clash, as their work in defence and fastbreak ability will have a deciding impact upon the final outcome of the match, when the two long-time confrères come face to face.

With the Nikcevic and Zvizej among the most experienced players in their teams, a lot will also be dependent on the way either can pass their vast experience onto younger teammates.

“My teammates may be young, but they have a cool head on their shoulders and a very mature way of thinking. I am there to give advice and maybe influence the youngsters when needed, but often times the maturity of my teammates’ decisions and ability surprises me.”

“I love it here at Celje, and I intend to see out the rest of my playing career here. I am enjoying my role within this young team. We grow together. I am a team player, and tend to focus on defence, and create chances from there.

“Despite the fact I am the oldest, we all feel very young and energized we see a lot of room for improvement and enjoy our handball,” said Zvizej, while his Serbian counterpart had almost identical answer, speaking of his enjoyment with Wisla team.

“I feel very youthful, eager and hungry for success. I feel like I always have room for improvement - this team makes me feel that way. We talk a lot, and it’s not only me passing on experience. Often times my younger teammates have a handy advice for me as well. I think dialog is essential.

“I am really enjoying my handball at Wisla. The team, its organization, the city and the fans, everything is in the name of handball here. It is a real handballing city. I always play every match with a full heart, and giving it all.

“I will always do what my coach asks of me, and Manolo (Cadenas) is exceptional. It doesn’t matter if I score or not, as long as the team wins. It is a special feeling playing for this club and our fans,” said the EHF EURO 2012 silver medallist Nikcevic.

Long-standing friendship

Both have played in Spain, while every national team and VELUX EHF Champions League match is another opportunity to catch up. For Nikcevic and Zvizej, it is all about friendship and respect that is almost two decades long.

“Nikcevic was a very important part of every team he’s played for, he is especially key for Wisla. He and I go a long way back, and spent some memorable time together while we were both playing in Spain,” said Zvizej, acknowledging his counterpart will play a key role for Plock on Saturday.

“My first memory of him is from national team competition in 1999, when he still had hair,” said Zvizej jokingly of his earliest memories of his friend.

“He is an excellent player, very fast and skillful. He’s got a great character and never surrenders. Moreover, he’s been playing on an excellent level for years,“ continued Zvizej.

“Everyone knows who Luka is. His career, the teams he played for and his achievements. He is by all means a world-class player.

“We are long-time friends, but we will put that aside for 60 minutes on Saturday, and catch up afterwards,” said Nikcevic

Catch all the action live on ehfTV.com as these two old friends clash in an important Group A encounter.


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / bc
 
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