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11.01.2018, 22:55
Hosts can shine in face of adversity
«Go back »Print Version


EHF EURO COUNTDOWN #16: Croatia hope to overcome difficulties as they are ready to fight for their golden dream with legendary coach Lino Cervar returning after seven years
 

Hosts can shine in face of adversity

An EHF EURO title is the only accolade missing in Croatia’s mouth-watering trophy cabinet. Despite two finals and eight semi-final appearances, the ultimate EHF EURO success has eluded the team affectively known as ‘The Cowboys.’

There is a feeling nobody waited and wanted the gold more than Croatia, but approaching the long-awaited finals tournament on home court, the Croatian team have found themselves in numerous difficulties.

The injury, form and availability issues add to the pressure of short time and high expectations, as anything less than a medal will hardly satisfy their ambitious team and expectant fan base.

“We must set our goal. We have never had a more difficult situation. Everything reminds me of 2003 (when Croatia won World Championship gold). If we want to accomplish something here, we must do it against the best teams,” said Lino Cervar.

However, the recent return of Croatia’s biggest star Domagoj Duvnjak, following an eight-month recovery from knee surgery, has brought a big boost to Lino Cervar and his squad.


Roster

Duvnjak’s road back to optimum form will certainly play a big role in Croatia’s chances, as well set the theme of the remaining preparation.

Meanwhile, as much as a player of Duvnjak’s ability can be the difference between success and failure, Lino Cervar has managed to assemble a real talent-laden squad, with most of the players no longer newbies at this level.

The provisional list of 28 names boast the best players available, as well as five debutants – most notably, one of Europe’s most promising talents, left back Halil Jaganjac, who just might prove to be their hidden gem.

In contrast to the EHF EURO 2016, when the foundations were laid for the upcoming championship, a vast majority of the players in the team (23 of them) has EHF EURO experience, as well as a history of playing together, which adds to their cohesion.

Attack

The very roster impresses with both size and skill, offering a variety of options in attack. However, due to the club obligations and shortage of time, there will be very little time to mix and match in late December and January when the team will be complete.

In that regard, a lot will depend on how the team gels around Luka Cindric, and his ability to pull the strings offensively. Igor Karacic will bring a fresh alternative, but Cindric’s form places him highest on the playmakers’ pecking order.

Cindric’s craft and vision will get the best out of their backcourt shooting potential, where in-form Stipe Mandalinic could shine.

Having such an intelligent player also helps utilise the line player to exploit any chances to disrupt opponents’ zones - especially with Igor Vori in the team, making up for Ilija Brozovic’s absence.

The fast break will be ever-dependable with the experienced wingers Ivan Cupic, Manuel Strlek and Zlatko Horvat, having five EHF EUROs under their belts; rounding off the lethal Croatian attack, which will strongly depend on defensive consistency and the ability to produce variety in movement and shooting.

Defence

Croatia are well aware attack wins matches, but defence wins championships. Their potentially biggest weapon lies in the efficient execution of defensive tasks, where every opportunity is created.

With Mirko Alilovic, Filip Ivic, Ivan Stevanovic and Ivan Pesic available as options in goal, Croatia’s net is as safe as it could ever be. There are also very few secrets regarding Lino Cervar’s defence concept.

Their signature 6-0 and 5-1 zones are expected to benefit from as much as nine players towering at above two metres.

The defence could line up in several ways. Either aggressively, with active hands seeking any fast break opportunity, or more compact, to neutralise the backcourt peril.

Rotation will play a role here, but getting the most from the experience and focus of the likes of Igor Vori, Jakov Gojun and Marko Kopljar bring to their fifth EHF EURO, is instrumental.

Coach

There is hardly any coach more synonymous to the glory days of Croatian handball than Lino Cervar. The fabled tactician, and a winner of six medals in eight years, returns to the EHF EURO on his second tenure with Croatia.

After two silver medals (2008 and 2010), Cervar dreams of the EHF EURO gold, and nobody knows the limits of this team better than he does, having bread the players like Domagoj Duvnjak during his four-decade long coaching career.

With so many things uncertain, one thing is for sure - there is simply no better man for the job.

Outlook

Trophy is their dream. Medal is an imperative. The situation is far from ideal.

Counting the days until their EHF EURO 2018 premiere in front of the home crowd (against bitter-rivals Serbia), the magician Lino Cervar, will have to use all the tricks in his bag to ensure an optimum performance from the very start.

A lot will depend on Croatia’s ability to develop cohesiveness and work as one unit. Although not as hotly-tipped, it would be impossible not have them as favourites, despite having Serbia, Sweden and Iceland as Group A rivals; while potentially meeting the likes of France and Norway in the main round.

They have the quality, and a visionary coach who can make it all work together. And, if we could learn anything from Croatia’s glorious past, it is that they have the ability to show resilience and shine in the face of adversity.

The 22 players currently in the squad of Croatia for the Men’s EHF EURO 2018:

Goalkeepers: Ivan Stevanovic (Kadetten Schaffhausen), Ivan Pešic (HC Meshkov Brest), Mirko Alilovic (Telekom Veszprem)

Wing players: Zlatko Horvat (HC PPD Zagreb), Ivan Cupic (HC Vardar), Manuel Strlek (HC PGE Vive Kielce), Lovro Mihic (Orlen Wisla Plock)

Backcourt players: Jakov Gojun (Füchse Berlin), Halil Jaganjac (HC Metalurg), Marko Mamic (PGE Vive Kielce), Stipe Mandalinic (Füchse Berlin), Domagoj Duvnjak (THW Kiel), Igor Karacic (HC Vardar), Luka Cindric (HC Vardar), Marko Kopljar (Füchse Berlin), Luka Stepancic (Paris Saint-Germain Handball), Sime Ivic (Orlen Wisla Plock), Denis Buntic (MOL-Pick Szeged)

Line players: Marino Maric (MT Melsungen), Zeljko Musa (SC Magdeburg), Tin Kontrec (HC PPD Zagreb), Igor Vori (HC PPD Zagreb)


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / ec
 
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