03.06.2014, 10:06
Serbia face Czechs in battle of wounded lions

NEWS REPORT: Successive failures at major events has put pressure on the Serbs to qualify for the 2015 World Championship in Qatar

Serbia face Czechs in battle of wounded lions  

A hat-trick of poor results on the biggest stage has piled the pressure on EHF EURO 2012 runners-up Serbia to qualify for the 2015 World Championship in Qatar, with fellow eastern Europeans Czech Republic standing in the way as their two-leg playoff beckons, the Balkan country’s coach Vladan Matic said after his team gathered in Belgrade on Monday.

Having won the silver medal on home court three years ago, the Serbs then failed to reach the knockout rounds at the London Olympics, performed below par in the 2013 World Championship in Spain and were knocked in the preliminary group stage of EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark.

Coach Vladan Matic and many of the senior players came under fire from the media and pundits after the setback in Denmark, hence they stressed qualifying for next January’s event in Qatar was the minimum goal.

“It is imperative that we beat the Czechs in our doubleheader after a poor result in Denmark but they too failed to live up to expectations so it will be a battle of wounded lions,” Matic told a news conference.

“They are a physical side and have one of the best players in the world in Filip Jicha so there is no doubt that we face a very tough task. We have to play a high tempo game and hope to wear them down with our speed, while a tight defence and easy goals from fast breaks are basic prerequisites to beat a team of the Czech Republic’s quality,” he said.

Centre back Nenad Vuckovic echoed his coach’s viewpoint as he praised the Czechs and emphasised that Jicha’s failure to win the VELUX EHF Champions League with THW Kiel last weekend would only galvanise the sharpshooter to perform against Serbia.

“He is a top player and any comment about his qualities would be superfluous. He carries the whole Czech team and I am quite convinced that he will be fired up to deliver for his country after a narrow defeat in the Champions League final against Flensburg,” he said.

“It will be a tough doubleheader but we have a great atmosphere in the locker room and that is a good starting point for the challenge that awaits.”

With Momir Ilic, Drasko Nenadic, Marko Vujin and Bogdan Radivojevic given a few days’ rest after playing for their respective clubs in the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, the Serbian team will only have two practice sessions at full strength ahead of the first leg in Nis.

Still, Matic was confident his team would take no time to fire on all cylinders in the Cair Hall, Serbia’s handball stronghold which is guaranteed to draw a full house on Saturday. 

“Some players are still recovering from what has been a long, hard season but there is no doubt we will hit top form for the two games against the Czech Republic because the lads are raring to go. Carving out a telling advantage in the first leg at home is crucial as it would give us a much-needed cushion ahead of the return fixture.”

The second leg will be played on June 14 in Brno. 

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cor

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