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03.12.2016, 11:10
Synergy between youth and experience
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TEAM CHECK CROATIA: Croatia travel to the Women's EHF EURO 2016 in Sweden with a squad for the future hoping to make up for their disappointing EHF EURO 2014.
 

Synergy between youth and experience

Croatia are returning to the international handball stage after missing the World Championship 2015 in Denmark, and are looking forward to a much stronger performance than the last EHF EURO. At the event in 2014, Croatia failed to qualify for the main round in their home country.

Croatia are returning to the EHF EURO with a new coach and a young, inexperienced team, but are hoping for a surprise.

In friendly matches ahead of the EHF EURO 2016, Croatia showed good game with two wins against Montenegro and one against Japan. With the boost of confidence gained from these matches, Croatia will do their best to record at least one win in Group D in Helsingborg.

The roster

The Croatia team has probably never been this young and inexperienced. Most players are born in 1994 or 1992, with 19-year-old Nikolina Zadravec the youngest opposite Andrea Penezic, who is 31 and therefore one of the oldest and most experienced in the team.

But it is not only age and inexperience that are problems for Croatia – Penezic still has an ankle injury sustained in her most recent Women’s EHF Champions League match for Vardar.

Ivana Kapitanovic is almost certain to miss the EHF EURO 2016 due to knee injury, while Zana Maric has been ill with a temperature for a week now. Sonja Basic also missed the start of preparations because of injury, but she will be fit for the matches in Helsingborg.

Penezic is easily the biggest star and will lead her teammates on court however, the team’s overall performance depends a lot on how she plays. If Penezic’s injury prevents her from playing less than 60 minutes, Goran Mrdjen will have a lot of problems.

The attack

The main figure in Croatia’s game is Penezic. She is the ultimate power when talking about Croatia’s attack, with an ability to score from various situations and all back positions.

Croatia’s attacking efficiency will depend largely on her, but Basic and Vesna Milanovic-Litre are also very important. Milanovic-Litre has proven herself as a great line player, while Basic is a versatile back who has the power to lift the team when they are down.

Left wing Ekaterina Nemaskalo has been with the national team since the EHF EURO 2012, and has experience playing on the big stage. Nemaskalo’s shooting efficiency is very high and she is certainly an asset on the left side of Croatia’s attack.

The defence

Just like in attack, the main role in defence belongs to Basic, Milanovic-Litre and Penezic. 22-year-old Ana Debelic is also a very strong point in defence, and she is developing quickly.

Mrdjen most often employs 6-0 defence, but a transition to 5-1 is possible with one of the team’s fast wings.

One defensive problem for Mrdjn might be between the posts, where he will have Gabrijela Besen and Marina Razum, neither of whom have ever played at the EHF EURO but gained valuable experience in the qualification matches. Both have had good seasons in the Croatian league and will hope to be equally successful in Sweden.

The coach

Goran Mrdjen took over as head coach for Croatia following the EHF EURO 2014 debacle. After he was named coach the team was significantly rejuvenated, leaving only a few experienced players.

Croatia failed to qualify for the World Championship 2015 in Denmark, so this will be the first big competition for Mrdjen as head coach. He is also in charge of Podravka Vegeta, whose history in the EHF Champions League stretches back to 1993.

Mrdjen led the young Croatian team through qualification for the EHF EURO 2016 in Sweden, losing only two matches – one each against Montenegro and Slovenia, both in away games.

Mrdjen knows his team very well as he coaches many of them in Podravka, but he has also had the chance to work with them over the last two years. He hopes the synergy between younger and older players will prove a winning combination.

The outlook

Croatia has a very young team that needs to gain valuable experience playing on big stages like the EHF EURO. They are aware that they are playing in very difficult Group D, but are hoping for surprises against their powerhouse opponents Norway, Russia and Romania.

Reaching the main round would be a big success for Mrdjen’s team, who travel to Sweden without any pressure – all they need is to show their best game and hope for one win that can launch them into main round.

The 18 players nominated by Goran Mrdjen for the EHF EURO 2016

Goalkeepers: Ivana Kapitanovic (RK Podravka), Gabrijela Besen (RK Sesvete-Agroproteinka), Marina Razum (RK Lokomotiva Zagreb)

Left wings: Ekaterina Nemaskalo (RK Podravka), Paula Posavec (ŽRK Zrinski)

Right wings: Natasa Jankovic (Ardesen GSK), Nikolina Zadravec (RK Podravka)

Line players: Vesna Milanovic-Litre (RK Krim Mercator), Andrea Covic (HC Vardar), Ana Debelic (RK Podravka)

Left backs: Andrea Penezic (HC Vardar), Camila Micijevic (Dunaujvarosi KKA), Marijeta Vidak (RK Podravka)

Centre backs: Sonja Basic (Ipress Center-VAC), Dora Krsnik (RK Podravka), Valentina Blazevic (RK Krim Mercator)

Right backs: Zana Maric (KGHM Metraco Zaglebie Lubin), Selena Milosevic (RK Podravka)


TEXT: Jelena Bagaric / cg
 
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