Both teams give their coaches a headache ahead of 2013 World Championship
Serbia stutter as Croatia fail to impress
If performances in warm-up matches are anything to go by, Serbia and Croatia will struggle to emulate their EHF EURO 2012 achievements at the upcoming World Championship in Spain.
Both teams enjoyed podium finishes in January last year, Serbia winning the silver medal on home court while Croatia came up with the bronze, but poor displays against unheralded rivals in the most recent friendlies suggest that producing the goods might be a tall order this time.
Especially for Serbia, whose 34:19 home demolition by Egypt on Sunday came on the back of an unconvincing 26:25 win over FYR Macedonia the day before.
Both games drew a full house, first in Niš and then in the Serbian spa of Vrnjačka Banja, but the home fans will have left the venues with raised eyebrows after what they saw.
Coach Veselin Vuković stuck to his policy of sharing the minutes evenly among all the players on his roster but after a fortuitous win against the Macedonians, Serbia fell apart against an inspired Egyptian team which took them apart in all departments.
Having also faltered at the London 2012 Olympic Games, when they finished fifth in their preliminary group and failed to reach the quarter-finals, Serbia continue to look a pale shadow of the team that reached the final at EHF EURO 2012.
"We rotated a lot of players to see where we stand and chinks in the armour appeared as soon as inexperienced players replaced the stalwarts in defence," Vuković said after the slender win against Macedonia.
"We have to show more tactical discipline and I am sure al the pieces will fall into place before the World Championship starts," he added.
But it remains to be seen whether that will be the case after a dreadful performance against Egypt for which Ahmed El Ahmar scored 10 goals.
Croatia, for their part, had more to cheer about after a last-gasp 37:36 win over unheralded Norway in their coastal resort of Pula after trailing 18:24 at halftime.
However, the avalanche of goals they conceded in the opening half left coach Slavko Goluža unhappy.
"The players’ feet were a bit heavy after a series of demanding strength-building sessions but that cannot be an excuse for our woeful defending in the first half," Goluža said after the match.
"We felt very uncomfortable when we looked at the scoreboard at the break but the young lads in the team played their hearts out in the second half and showed plenty of character," added goalkeeper Mirko Alilović.
Although they played without inspirational middle back Ivano Balić, who has been left out by Goluža and will play no part in the World Championship, Croatia showed plenty of potential in attack but poor defending remains a concern ahead of the 24-team tournament in Spain.
Montenegro, much like Serbia, have plenty of work to do in the final stages of their preparations if they are to make an impact, following three defeats at a warm-up tournament in Denmark.
The Montenegrins, who are heading to their first World Championship since they gained independence in 2006, were beaten by Slovenia 31:26 before being blown away by European champions Denmark 38:21. Their final match ended in a 30:28 setback against Tunisia.
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / ts
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