Slovakia´s coach talks about the chances and the hurdles at the EHF EURO in Serbia.
Zoltán Heister: "We have learnt our lessons"
50 year-old Zoltán Heister has been the coach of the Slovak men’s team since 2006 – and he’s had his ups and downs during that time. After a great success at World Championship 2009, his team missed the Main Round of the WCh 2011. But in qualification for EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia, Slovakia has achieved some impressive results, including a victory against Sweden.
The recent highlight of the preparations was a victory at defending EURO, World and Olympic champions France. Therefore, Heister is confident for the EHF EURO in Serbia after missing the EHF EURO 2010 in Austria.
ehf-euro.com: What are the objectives of the Slovak team at the EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia?
Zoltán Heister: The main objective is to play as well as possible. But to be honest, we still think about proceeding to the Main Round. I respect the enormous strength of all our opponents and I know it will be a very difficult task, but without any ambition no one can succeed. Only by progressing from the Preliminary Round can we dream about more, and talk about Olympic qualification.
ehf-euro.com: Do you think you have one of the toughest groups of the Preliminary Round?
Zoltán Heister: I wouldn’t say it’s the toughest but it certainly belongs among the most challenging. As almost always at an EHF EURO you have very tough groups and equal matches from the very beginning of the tournament. Group C with France, Hungary, Spain and Russia is very difficult as well.
ehf-euro.com: Which opponent is the favourite in your group?
Zoltán Heister: In my eyes it is definitely Denmark. If you look at their results of the last few years you’ll know why. They were finalists at the last World Championships, and they have a very balanced team built around many experienced players who’ve known each other for some time. They play a modern and fast handball game.
The Serbs are just behind, and they’re playing at home, and also have great players like Momir Ilič and Marko Vujin. On one hand, they have a weaker bench than the Danes, but on the other, they will have a fanatical crowd supporting them.
ehf-euro.com: What has changed in your team after the weak performances at the World Championship in Sweden, as Slovakia played strongly in the EURO qualification?
Zoltán Heister: The World Championships were a great lesson for us and, all in all, they helped us. The players are now more resistant, they can concentrate better, and they are more capable of handling critical situations.
A couple of personnel changes have also helped. We don’t have experienced players such as František Šulc, but new guys have come in and they’ve already shown that they can be trusted to perform well.
ehf-euro.com: How will you prepare your team before the EHF EURO in Serbia?
Zoltán Heister: Following the recent victory and the defeat in the friendly games in France we’ll take part in a traditional Christmas Cup competition with our neighbours - Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, all of whom are EHF EURO contenders.
Right after Christmas we’ll concentrate on physical training, and we’ve also been invited to play in a tournament in Croatia, along with Sweden and Iran, just before the EHF EURO. Then we’ll come back home and give the players two days off to clear their minds before leaving for Belgrade.
ehf-euro.com: Who are your main favourites for the EURO title?
Zoltán Heister: I consider France, Spain and Denmark as true medal contenders. Other teams can surprise as well, but as I said, Serbia needs a better bench, the Germans are not as strong as a couple of years ago, and in my opinion, the Croats are stagnating as well.
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TEXT: Björn Pazen / Vladislav Brindžák
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