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11.01.2016, 10:00
Croatia travel to Poland 2016 with the EHF EURO 2018 in mind
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EHF EURO COUNTDOWN #13: Croatia are likely to field one the youngest squad in recent years at the EHF EURO 2016 and the question is how much head coach Babić’s boys will be able to accomplish
 

Croatia travel to Poland 2016 with the EHF EURO 2018 in mind

A new coach, a younger squad and a new team captain. This is in short what changed in the Croatian national team since they finished sixth at the World Championship 2015 in Qatar.

Željko Babić as new coach steered them to a first place in EHF EURO 2016 Qualification even though he lost the first match against Norway.

Closer to the EHF EURO he left out long-term team captain Igor Vori and allowed some ‘new kids’ to take over responsibility.

The goal in mind for everyone is gold at the EHF EURO 2018 on home court, but the first step towards this is Poland 2016 where Croatia strive towards the best possible result.

The team’s strength

Croatia’s key to success at the EHF EURO 2016 will be the defence, almost always the team’s strongest asset.

Looking at the 20 names Babić named for the first cycle of preparations, the defence will be led by Jakov Gojun and captain Marko Kopljar, enforced by line players Ilija Brozović, Marino Marić or Krešimir Kozina.

Standing behind them between the posts will be Mirko Alilović, one of the team’s most experienced players.

Another strength are the team’s fast breaks that Manuel Štrlek, Ivan Čupić and Zlatko Horvat tend to finish with surgical precision.

The team’s weakness

Croatia’s one big weakness is the team’s age, as it is one of the youngest squads they fielded in recent years.

Based on the 20 names first named the average is 25,7 years. Babić himself stated that team will have ups and downs during the EHF EURO simply because there are inexperienced and young players who have never played on such a big stage.

For example, Antonio Kovačević, Krešimir Kozina, Luka Cindrić,  Marko Mamić and Luka Šebetić have never played at major international handball events over a couple of weeks.

On the other hand, all of them have the experience of playing in the VELUX EHF Champions League for one or even more years.

Furthermore, Babić faces a problem on the right side of his attack where he lost Luka Stepančić who sustained a knee injury. Šime Ivić, the right back from Nantes, was invited to the team and is a candidate for the trip to Poland.

The team’s star

Domagoj Duvnjak is Croatia’s biggest strength in attack and definitely the best player they have.

He is the mastermind of Croatia’s attack and he learned from the best what it is like to be the leader of the team. Once he was Ivano Balić’s student but now he has taken over his role.

Duvnjak’s role is not only important for Croatia’s game on court, but he is also a mentor for team’s newcomers. He can easily relate to them as he was just 18 when he first joined the national team.

The hidden gem

With Igor Vori not being part of the team, Babić has three options for the line player position.

They all play in Germany in the Bundesliga, but one of them could be the ace Babić has up his sleeve: Ilija Brozović from HSV Hamburg.

He was part of team at Qatar 2015, so has some major handball event experience, even though he did not play a lot.

Being very agile in attack and also strong in defence, Brozović might be one of Babić’s ‘surprise weapons’ against Croatia’s opponents.

The outlook

In previous European or World Championships Croatia had a clear goal of what they want to accomplish: They were always a medal candidate, but at the EHF EURO 2014 and the World Championship 2015 they failed to make the podium.

In Poland, they want to rank first in Group B where they will play against Belarus, Norway and Iceland.

In the main round Babić’s players will need to play at their best if they want to make their way to semi-finals, but the most important is that Croatia will be willing to sacrifice a top result in Poland for the brighter future with these young players and the aim of winning gold at the EHF EURO 2018.

 


TEXT: Jelena Bagaric / ts
 
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