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16.02.2018, 14:00
“Our Last 16 fate depends on this match”
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INTERVIEW: Damir Bicanic knows how big a task defeating Nantes is, but is not shirking the challenge Zagreb face in Saturday’s Match of the Week
 

“Our Last 16 fate depends on this match”

HC PPD Zagreb are far from happy with their performance in the VELUX EHF Champions League this season. With only four points so far, they sit bottom of Group A. However, all hope is not lost as the team led by Olympic champion Zlatko Saracevic can still qualify for the Last 16.

The last time Zagreb failed to reach Last 16 was in 2013/14 and if they wish to avoid this fate again, then a win against Nantes in Saturday’s Match Of The Week (20:00 CET on ehfTV.com) is a must.

“It will be very difficult. They are a great team with quality players. They have a good system because they have been together for a long time,” said Damir Bicanic, one of the most experienced players in Zagreb’s squad.

Injuries biggest problem ahead of the MOTW

One of the biggest problems his team is facing ahead of Match of the week on Saturday are injuries. Most recently right back Mario Vuglac suffered chest muscle injury which requires surgery, meaning his season is over and the same goes for left back Matej Hrstic, who suffered an ACL tear. With Hrstic’s injury, Bicanic is Zagreb’s only left back.

“We are missing a lot of important backcourt players and this has disrupted us.”

Even though they are struck with severe injuries, Bicanic still believes his side can win in Arena Zagreb.

“This is a very important match, a match which decides whether we can still go through to the Last 16. We have to do our best in defence and our goalkeepers need to be at a high level. In that case, we will have a chance of winning against Nantes,” he said.

“This is a completely different match”

In November, Zagreb were one goal short and lost to Nantes in La Trocardiere 28:27. Compared to that match, the Croatian champion are short four backcourt players – Stipe Mandalinic and Zarko Markovic who left the club and the above mentioned injured Hrstic and Vuglac. Matevz Skok also left during the winter break to join Sporting in Portugal.

“This is a completely different match since we are missing four backcourt players from the first game. We have changed the game system and different players are in the back positions so it is difficult to compare the two games.

“If we want to win, we have to play aggressive defence and have a good transition. That is the only way we can win.”

Chance for Zagreb’s youngsters to shine 

Because of many injuries, Zagreb has to rely on young players such as Josip Vekic, who is the only right back they have at the moment. However, Vekic is only 19 and has recently recovered from an ACL injury.

Players like Vekic, Tin Lucin, Josip Eres and Arian Jovic definitely lack experience of playing at a high level in matches like this, but there is no time like the present and Saracevic has no other choice.

On the plus side, the Croatian champions have experienced players such as Bicanic to help the young players overcome potential fears and nerves.

“There is no difference now between young, old and experienced players. Anyone who is currently on the team must contribute. Even if he plays five, six minutes,” he says.

“We can prepare them before the match, but these are the games in which one team with more motivation, preparation and will for the two points wins.  We definitely have to be that team because if they beat us with aggression and will, then we do not stand a chance.

“They know me as well as I know them”

Bicanic can be named as an expert in French handball since he spent six years playing for Chambery. He returned to Zagreb after a ten-year absence this season with a wealth of experience and knowledge to share.

In the first match, the 32-year-old was Zagreb’s best scorer with six goals, but he warns that experience of the French league is a double-edged sword.

“Experience helps, but is also a disadvantage. As much as I know them, they know me too. In the first match, I played very well against them and I expect them to play more aggressively against me on Saturday.

“As in all games, I will do everything I can to help my team win and reach our goal,” concluded Bicanic. 


TEXT: Jelena Bagaric / cor
 
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