Croatia wins test tournament on home ground
Croatia has shown its strength in their final preparations for the EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia. One week before the EHF EURO starts, they have won the "Cup of Croatia" with victories over EHF EURO participants Sweden, Slovakia, and also Iran (currently preparing for the Asian Championship).
Croatia – Iran 41:19 (20:7)
The host had no problems with the Asians, who are coached by Croatian Ivica Rimanic, and had decided the game already at the break. Another positive for the runners-up of the EHF EURO 2010 was the increasing performance level of right-winger Ivan Cupic, who has recovered completely from a shoulder injury and became the top scorer with seven goals. Additional news: the Croats can count on an experienced goalkeeping trio (Marin Sego, Mirko Alilovic, Venio Losert) for Serbia.
Sweden – Slovakia 31:23 (14:13)
The Slovaks were on eye level in this duel of two EHF EURO participants in the first half, but then the Swedes, led by goalkeeper Johan Sjöstrand and top scorer Kim Andersson, decided the game by the middle of the second half. From a 4:0 series to make it 19:15 they extended the gap to 26:18 in minute 51. "Sjöstrand was exceptional with a 50 % save ratio, and in the second half we really showed what we are able to do," coach Ola Lindgren said.
Sweden – Iran 33:20 (16:12)
Although Iran was nearly equal until minute 35 (18:14 for Sweden), the Asians lacked power in the end and the Europeans took their second victory very easily. "Despite the victory we didn’t play as well as against Slovakia," coach Lindgren said, but praised Jonathan Stenbäcken and Jonas Larholm, the Swedish top scorers, who notched four goals each.
Croatia – Slovakia 32:23 (19:14)
The 14 saves of goalkeeper Alilovic were the key to this Croatian success, which was never endangered. Again Cupic – together with Manuel Strlek – was the top scorer with five goals, and on the Slovakian side, Oliver Rabek hit the back of the net eight times and goalkeeper Peter Stochl saved 13 shots. The Croats were faster in attack and stronger in defence than their opponent, so the clear victory was well-deserved. "The team played as I wanted it to play, with full speed and counter-attacks. It was not a bad performance," coach Slavko Goluza said.
Slovakia – Iran 40:21 (18:8)
"It was highly important for my team to finish this tournament with a victory. Concerning the final nominations for the EHF EURO I am not sure, as three players are still not 100% fit. I need some time to consider," Slovak coach Zoltan Heister said after finishing third at the "Cup of Croatia". Summing-up the tournament performance, he praised his goalkeepers and wing player Martin Stranovsky, who was the top scorer with eight goals in their final match against Iran, which had really been decided when the score reached 18:8.
Croatia – Sweden 29:24 (15:11)
It was a real final of the "Cup of Croatia" and the host remained spotless at the end – despite having to replace Ivano Balic and Drago Vukovic. Top scorers of this game were Blazenko Lackovic (Croatia) and Kim Andersson (Sweden) with six goals each, and Alilovic again stood strong with 13 saved shots.
Thanks to six straight goals after the 9:11 stage, Croatia was in a clear lead at the break. "This was, when we lost the match," Swedish coach Ola Lindgren said. But his team fought hard, reduced the gap to 23:25 in the beginning of the final stage, but then Blazenko Lackovic, Ivan Nincevic and Zeljko Musa decided the game for the hosts.
Despite those victories, Croatian coach Slavko Goluza was not completely satisfied: "We conceded too many easy goals, as the communication in defence was not as good as I’d expected. But against Sweden we showed maximum concentration. Now we have four crucial days to analyse the mistakes we made. We can count on a strong team and focus on our strengths and correct the faults."
Mirko Alilovic, who was awarded best goalkeeper of the "Cup of Croatia" tournament, shares the opinion of his coach: "We improved from match to match and it’s nice to win this Cup, but it’s more important to start the EHF EURO perfectly with a victory over Iceland. We still made too many mistakes, and that includes me and the defence."
Croatia has suffered some injury problems before the start of the EHF EURO, as Ivano Balic (adductor) and Drago Vukovic (shoulder) are not 100% cent fit. "We hope that they’ll recover this week, because without them, we are not the same," said Domagoj Duvnjak, who was awarded best player of the "Cup of Croatia".
Croatia and Slovakia will have no more test matches before the start of the EHF EURO, but the Swedish team will face Russia, another EHF EURO participant, on home ground on Tuesday (in Kristianstad) and Wednesday (in Malmö).
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TEXT: Björn Pazen