FEATURE: While Croatia's men's team wants nothing else than another top podium finish at Lloret de Mar, the women's team is a bit more subtle in it claims
Mixed expectations in Croatia ahead of the European Championships
One of the most successful beach handball nations approaches the final preparations for the upcoming European Beach Handball Championships in Lloret de Mar, Spain at the end of the month (30 June oto 5 July).
While the women's team is currently in a phase of transition, winning gold is the only scenario which would satisfy their male compatriots.
The men's roster has not been finalised yet, but the only problem so far seems to be the absence of Mladen Paradzik, a very useful player in both attack and defence, who has undergone surgery at his shoulder not too long ago.
Replacing Paradzik was already considered a problem for Detono Zagreb at the ebt Finals in Budaörs, Hungary last month.
However, the Croatian champions overcame it and won the tournament for the sixth time. Many of the Detono Zagreb players are expected to form the core of the national team at the Lloret de Mar championship.
"The continuous achievements of the men's national team are closely related to Detono being so successful," says head coach Davor Rokavec. "However, playing for the national team is much different."
Croatia’s men’s team has topped the podium at the European Championships for three times in a row now (2009, 2011 and 2013) – and if you ask them this run is not going to stop soon.
They also won silver at the World Beach Handball Championship 2014.
"Our philosophy is always the same. We want to win every tournament," says Rokavec.
"I know it may sound a bit cocky but it’s our way of thinking that worked so far. We have a quality team and have to accept the role of favourites."
Croatia's men will start their campaign in Group A alongside Spain, Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, Germany.
Team in transition
On the other hand, the women's team has not won any medal at a major event since winning gold at the European Championships in Umag 2011.
The majority of this ‘golden generation’ has retired by now, and the time has come to rebuild the team.
"As we are about to rebuild, finishing the tournament among the top five teams would be a success," says head coach Mateja Brezic.
She has a clear opinion on the tournament’s favourites. "Reigning champions Hungary, hosts Spain and Norway will fight for the medals. However, it will be interesting to see what Germany can do in their comeback to the sand," she says.
Only four players who played at the European Championship in Randers two years ago will represent Croatia again in Lloret de Mar: Josipa Grebenar, Vlatka Samarinec, Dubravka Bukovina and Melita Jug.
Unfortunately for Brezic, not all the young players she would have like to nominate will be available, as some of them will play for Croatia at the Women’s 17 and Women’s 19 EHF EURO in July and August.
However, according to Brezic there will be enough time for them to show what they are capable of doing on the sand.
"We believe this team can achieve even better results in two years," concludes the Croatian head coach.
Croatia are in Group B alongside Ukraine, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Montenegro and Netherlands.
TEXT: Tomislav Lauric / ts
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