Serbia edge out Croatia in thrilling doubleheader
The first real test of Serbia’s credentials to do well in the upcoming European Championship on home soil was an enthralling pair of friendlies with neighbours Croatia on the weekend and both sides will take home a lot of positives from the doubleheader.
The Serbian team was at full strength while Croatia were missing several key players through injury and personal commitments, but there was never any doubt the two contests in the town of Petrovac na Mlavi in central Serbia would produce tight and evenly balanced battles.
Led by their star player Andrea Lekic, who scored an impressive total of 15 goals in the two games, Serbia were unlucky not to win the opening match which ended in a 25:25 draw after the home team squandered a four-goal lead in the closing stages.
Lekic led the charge with seven goals, Svetlana Ognjenovic added five, while Maja Zebic – who plays her club handball for Serbian champions RK Zajecar – was Croatia’s top scorer with five goals.
The second encounter was an equally rip-roaring affair as Serbia once again produced a scintillating first half and an inconsistent second, having thrown away a four goal-lead at the interval (17:13) and allowed Croatia to turn the tide.
The outstanding Zebic (pictured), who netted eight goals for Croatia, fired her team into a 25:24 lead with 11 minutes left but a rollercoaster finish went Serbia’s way as Sladjana Pop-Lazic scored on the buzzer to make it 30:29, delighting a capacity home crowd in Petrovac.
Lekic again led Serbia with eight goals to her name and steered Serbia to a win that delighted their coach Sasa Boskovic. “We will take a lot of heart from this victory and it’s so important that we snatched it in the final second of the match,” Boskovic told reporters.
“I have to thank this wonderful crowd who twice made it a full house and I am also happy with our performance against Croatia’s 5-1 defence, which is what we practiced all week. We are obviously not as experienced as Croatia on the big stage but that will change as we are hosting the European Championship in December and next year’s World Championship, both of them thanks to the efforts of the Serbian Handball Federation,” he said.
Croatia coach Vladimir Canjuga congratulated Serbia and poured scorn on his team for what he saw as a below-par performance.
“Serbia were a lot more committed and my team did not seem to have taken this match seriously enough,” he said.
“I lost my voice with all the shouting I had to do at half time and Krsitina Elez was too self-centered in her efforts, trying to prove that she is the pack leader with Andrea Penezic absent through injury.
"Our 5-1 defence was good in the second half but the attack left a lot to be desired overall,” Canjuga stressed.
At the EHF EURO 2012 Serbia are in Group A in Belgrade alongside Olympic, world and European champions Norway as well as with the Czech Republic and Ukraine, while Croatia were drawn in Group C, based in Novi Sad, with Germany, Spain and neighbours Hungary.
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TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / ts