On the road to Nantes: Pešić
A Slovenian club is still alive in European Cup competition, but it is not Celje, nor Gorenje, not even Krim.
While all of the traditional Slovenian powerhouses have already succumbed to opposition in Europe, an unlikely contender is preparing a final charge for an EHF Cup Finals berth.
The club is Maribor Branik. After a 26:26 draw in the first quarter-final leg against Frisch Auf Göppingen at home, the Styrian outfit is eager to cause an upset in the return leg and make history.
One of the most important pieces in Maribor's puzzle is 24-year-old Croatian goalkeeper Ivan Pešić.
In his maiden season in Slovenia he was handed the responsibility of being the first-choice goalkeeper and he soon proved he has what it takes.
His season is shaping to be an all-out success, with Maribor punching above their height in the domestic league and in Europe.
Against the Germans, Pešić made 18 saves and denied them their chance in their last attack. On Wednesday he contributed 13 saves to a 22:22 home draw with Celje in the Slovenian championship.
It is fair to say that the outcome of this quarter-final could be dependent on his performance and he spoke to eurohandball.com ahead of the game.
eurohandball.com: Are you satisfied with the draw from the first match with Frisch Auf Göppingen?
Ivan Pešić: It is a fine result, but it could have been better. We didn't start the match as planned. I guess we we're a little intimidated by the presence of a team from the Bundesliga, who are also the title-holder in this competition.
We improved our game in the second half, we caught up with them and we even had the last attack. Unfortunately we didn't score, so it is what it is.
eurohandball.com: Nevertheless, this quarter-final is wide open. What kind of a performance can we expect in Germany?
Ivan Pešić: We will play our hearts out and whatever will be, will be. We have to be fearless, focus on a good defence and produce the 'easy' goals on the counter attack, so that their goalkeepers don't get in the groove.
eurohandball.com: The club is in good form, you are pushing for third place in the domestic league, and are undefeated on home court in Europe. Surely the season is already a success?
Ivan Pešić: Before the season nobody has expected such a good run of results. We are still playing in Europe and are causing problems for Celje, Velenje and Koper. I hope we will finish third in the championships and reach Nantes.
We have a young squad that has a lot of potential. But we still have a lot of matches to prove ourselves.
eurohandball.com: This is your first season in the EHF Cup, but you have experiences from the VELUX EHF Champions league with your prior clubs Zagreb and Veszprém, where in 2009 you were seriously injured in the infamous Marian Cozma incident. However, here you are, performing on the highest level again, how does it feel?
Ivan Pešić: Because of the injury I have lost a lot of time, but in never gave up hope. I guess this was the most important life lesson I've learned from the whole ordeal - never give up. Now I am healthy I have no problems and I am grateful for that."
eurohandball.com: Your contract with Maribor will expire at the end of the season. Do you know what is in store for you in the future?
Ivan Pešić: I have no idea what will happen after this season ends. Maribor is a very nice town, I like the people and the atmosphere. The club is constantly growing and evolving. They would like me to stay, but we have not reached any concrete arrangements yet, so we'll see.
Photo Credit: Boštjan Selinšek/RK Maribor Branik
TEXT: Grega Sever / cor