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03.10.2015, 18:19
Group four set for Balkan showdown
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FEATURE: Group four is set for an epic Balkan showdown, with Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and FYR Macedonia firing on all cylinders to try to qualify for the Women’s EHF EURO 2016.
 

Group four set for Balkan showdown 

The qualification draw saw FYR Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro all grouped together in a fight for the top two places, each of which carry a ticket to Sweden. 

With past results in mind, Montenegro stand firmly as group favourites. However, the challenge of meeting three well-known rivals will put their credentials under scrutiny until the teams get to meet in October. 

With significant changes happening in the respective Croatia, Slovenia, and FYR Macedonia camps recently, the new coach of Slovenia, Uros Bregar, and Macedonia, Sime Simovski, will certainly hope their sides can hit the ground running. The Women’s EHF EURO qualification will see the two coaches make their debut. Croatia's still relatively new coach, Dragan Mrdjen, on the other hand has had some time to bed in and implement desired changes to the Croatian team, having been appointed in March. 

However, Montenegro’s long-serving tactician Dragan Adzic's plans are in danger, as his side enter the opening matches without four crucial players. 

“It is a difficult draw with teams we know very well, and are very much aware of their ability. I am aware many see us as clear-cut favourites, but the teams in our group are much better than the stats suggest, especially being motivated to deliver against Montenegro,” said Adzic. 

“I feel very sorry some of these teams will eventually miss out, especially since almost the entire region is represented in our group.” 

Injury-worry for Montenegro 

For Montenegro, the injury worries started prior to the Women’s EHF EURO 2014. Their team has been missing two or three key players for a while now, and counting down to the start of qualification, the situation is unfortunately not much different. 

It is certain that Andjela Bulatovic and Jovanka Radicevic will miss the opening matches after sustaining injuries. Bulatovic has suffered problems with her shoulder for a while, whilst a recurrent foot injury sidelines Radicevic. Suzana Lazovic status is also uncertain as she awaits the results of examinations. 

On top of present injury problems, Sonja Barjaktarovic is still without a club and other goalkeeping options in Alma Hasanic, Marina Rajcic and Ljubica Nenezic have been exercised in due to Barjaktarovic’s lack of match fitness. 

“Amidst the injury worries we have, I am happy to have talented Djurdjina Jaukovic back in the team. She, and the entire generation born in 1996 will have a chance to step up and earn their place in these opening matches,” said Adzic. 

“Tactics wise we are looking to continue developing variety in our game to match the best teams today. I will look to implement 5-1 defence in addition to our tried and tested 6-0, while our attack might see a few minor tweaks as well.” 

Podravka core of Croatia setup 

Dragan Mrdjen, who took the helm of Croatian in March, making his debut at the World Championship play-offs. With some time to implement his vision, Croatia have seen a number of changes to their selection following their early exit from the  Women’s EHF EURO 2014, as well as the 2015 World Championship aggregate play-off defeat to Sweden in June. 

The squad list assembled by Dragan Mrdjen sees eight players from his Podravka setup. The Croatian squad represents the fine progress the Croatian league is making, with 11 players from Croatian clubs, assembling the core of the team alongside last season’s Women’s EHF Champions League joint top scorer Andrea Penezic (WHC Vardar). 

"My desire is to bring the level of performance of the national team to the highest stage we have reached at Podravka. We need to bring the best out of everyone in order to succeed,” said Mrdjen. 

"We need to transfer some assignments from Andrea Penezic onto her teammates, that way she can concentrate on doing what she does best. We have the quality to solve every problem in the roster with our rotation.” 

Coaches hope for great debut 

After Marta Bon’s tenure ended in September, Slovenia looked to Uros Bregar as her successor. 

With the all-important Barbara Lazovic-Varlec, Tamara Mavsar, Ana Gros and Misa Marincek, Slovenia will hope to secure a positive result from their away trip to Croatia on 7 October. 

FYR Macedonia are also hoping for a fresh start under new coach Sime Simovski, who boasts a rejuvenated squad full of talented youngsters. 

Simovski made his name as a youth coach, responsible for the breakthrough and development of many future Macedonian stars. His work was most notable at Vardar, with eight players on his list donning the colours of the Macedonian powerhouse. 

Having less then a month to rally his troops ahead of the foremost challenge in Group Four, Sime Simovski will face the stern test of playing Montenegro away on his debut.

 


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / gs
 
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