Lovrić: “Small details will be the difference”
If an average handball fan in Croatia would have been asked at the beginning of this season to point out which Croatian club team would be the last remaining team in all European Cup competitions, many would suggest Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb, Podravka Vegeta or NEXE Našice.
But who would have voted for Samobor? Perhaps just the club’s fans.
This is the second appearance of the “Lionesses” in European competition and they have reached the Challenge Cup final.
The biggest success in the club's history began with good planning by the team's management over the last 5 years.
Samobor is small city near the Croatian capital Zagreb, with a population of 38,000 and is mostly recognized for a big masquerade every February and delicious cream cakes that every visitor has to try. Handball has recently been added to that list.
Samobor's handball history starts in 1973 when ŽRK Mladost was founded. The first success came in 1996, known at this stage as ŽRK Samoborka Silex, when they entered 1st Croatian league finishing 4th in their opening season.
This gave the club their first outing in Europe, but the good times did not last long as the club collapsed two years later without a main sponsor.
For the next 10 years the club competed in the lower leagues and found their way back.
“I joined this team two years ago. They offered me their vision, a four-year plan and I was surprised because nobody in Croatia is working this way.
“In my first season, it was Samobor's debut season in Croatia's premier league and our only goal was to stay in the league.
“We managed to do it. Last season club's goal was to end in the highest possible position; we finished fifth and qualified for Challenge cup.
“This season we've already reached our goal in the domestic championship, we are playing for the championship and we reached the final of the Challenge Cup. Everybody is delighted,” said Ivana Lovrić.
The centre back is the most experienced player in Samobor, with international experience from DVSC Deberecen and Metz Handball. Ivana played at London Olympics, where Croatia reached the quarter-finals.
“Besides the Olympic games, this is one of the biggest successes in my indoor career. I have gold medals from beach handball events, but this is something completely different.
“To be honest, nobody in my team expected this. We are a young team with most girls from Samobor and Zagreb.
“Only a few girls have had some international experience in the past. We entered competition in the third phase, last 16, and when we beat ZRK Maks-sport Nova Pazova, our goal was fulfilled. Everything else came as fantastic bonus,” said Lovrić.
The team is a mixture of young players from Samobor and good signings by coach Dubravka Tunjić and club manager Sandra Novak, mostly from Lokomotiva Zagreb.
However, their biggest signing so far has been Ivana Lovrić.
“The club grows with every new season. The atmosphere is perfect, we all became good friends. The whole town supports us thanks to the fantastic job club marketing is doing.
“We have a lot of noisy supporters, our home matches are always crowded and everybody’s having fun with us.
“There are a lot of prizewinning games, t-shirts, balloons, light show during the player presentation before the match. Our fans even travelled to Sweden and this all is completely new level for all of us. We’re living our dreams,” said the 29-year-old.
Samobor survived drama in the semi-final away match versus H 65 Höör in Sweden.
“We came to Höör with an eight goal advantage from the first match. But after just 20 minutes we were nine goals down, our advantage was cancelled.
“At half time, in our locker room we found motivation in our fans. We said to ourselves that they didn't deserve to see us playing so miserly and poor after they had spent 24 hours in their vans travelling to Sweden.
“In the second half we started to play much better, we lost, but only by 5 goals and the big celebration could start,” Ivana recalled.
Samobor will miss two important players for the final, right back Marina Bazzeo and line player Sandra Bošnjak.
“This season was really hard for us, we've played a lot of matches in the domestic league, cup and in the Challenge cup. There was period that we played 3 matches in 7 days and this is main reason of their injuries.
“Sandra's been injured for one month, we finally managed to set our new positions in defence and last week Marina got injured. However, I'm sure that our coach Dubravka Tunjić will found some solutions for that too,“ says explains Lovrić.
“The Czech team has great experience. We've seen their match versus Üsküdar B.S.C. in semi-final. After losing the first leg in Istanbul, they played a perfect home match and beat the Turkish team by 10 goals and this is a result to respect.
“They have the top scorer of this competition, an experienced line player and goalkeeper and they play good defence.
“The first match is in our hall. I'm sure that both teams want this title and small details will be the difference at the end,” concluded Lovrić.
Women’s Challenge Cup Final:
1 leg: ŽRK Samobor vs DHK Banik Most, Sunday, 5 May 2013. 17:00 CET
2 leg DHK Banik Most vs ŽRK Samobor, Sunday, 12 May 2013. 12:30 CET
TEXT: Zlatko Skrinjar / cor