PREVIEW: For the first time since 2003 Croatia’s women’s national team play in Split when they meet Montenegro in the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification
Croatia count on home crowd support against Montenegro
Croatia’s women’s handball has been wandering in the dark for the past two years and is now looking for some light at the end of the tunnel.
Following the disastrous exit in the preliminary round at the EHF EURO 2014on Croatian home ground, the team also failed to qualify for World Championship 2015 in Denmark 2015 and they desperately need one competition where they can again play on the big stage.
Their EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Group 4 is mini-championship comprised of the former Yugoslav republics Croatia, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia and Slovenia.
Croatia and Montenegro easily won their first two encounters and on 10 and 12 March they fight for the group’s top spot and potentially also an early ticket to the Women’s EHF EURO 2016.
Looking at the history of these two teams, Croatia is enjoying a solid lead.
Since 2010 they played seven matches against each other and Croatia won six of them.
Just three of them were official matches (EHF EURO 2010, Olympic Games 2012 and Mediterranean Games 2013) with Croatia coming out as the winners in all those encounters – however, it has to be said that Montenegro overall produced the more successful performances that included a silver medal at London 2012 and winning the EHF EURO 2012.
“We want to win against Montenegro because this match is very important point wise. We are playing against national team which currently has a better rating than us,” says head coach Goran Goran Mrđen.
“They have a lot of good players and many of them play in Budućnost led by coach Adžić who has been voted best coach for two years in a row. Realistically speaking they are favourites, but when we play at home, no one is a favourite against us.”
A special place to play
The Croatian team has undergone big changes since the EHF EURO 2014. Goran Mrdjen is new head coach who has been rejuvenating the team by giving opportunity to young players from Croatian clubs.
The leader of the team is still Andrea Penezić who is joined by Marta Žderić, Katarina Ježić and Sonja Bašić. Most players are coming from EHF Champions League participants Podravka Vegeta, the most successful club in Croatia.
Some well-known names are left out for the upcoming games such as Maja Kožnjak, Maja Sokač, Anita Gaće, Dragica Džono and Kristina Elez, the latter one being pregnant.
Also, Miranda Tatari has retired from professional handball after she had suffered from another serious knee injury at EHF EURO 2014. Shortly after the final tournament she got married and recently gave birth to a child.
This match is special for Croatia because since 2003 they have not played in Split. Some of the players were very young when the women’s team last played in Split, like Ivana Kapitanović who was only nine at the time.
“Montenegro is great team with really good players and they are favorites. But we are playing at home and we can’t let anyone to be a favourite on our court.
“I hope we’ll play good match and I expect to win in Split. I’ve never played in my hometown so this will be very special for me. The girls and I chatted about it and we all are all very excited about finally playing in Split.”
Croatian squad for the EHF EURO 2016 qualifiers against Montenegro:
Goalkeepers: Marta Žderić (Budućnost), Ivana Kapitanović (Podravka Vegeta), Gabrijela Bešen (RK Sesvete Agroproteinka)
Left wings: Ekaterina Nemaškalo (Podravka Vegeta), Paula Posavec (ŽRK Zrinski)
Right wings: Ana Nikšić (Podravka Vegeta), Nikola Zadravec (ŽRK Koka)
Line players: Vesna Milanović Litre (RK Krim Mercator), Katarina Ježić (HCM Baia Mare), Andrea Čović (HC Vardar)
Back players: Andrea Penezić (HC Vardar), Sonja Bašić (Ipress Center – Vac), Žana Marić (KGHM Metraco Zaglebie Lubin), Ćamila Mičijević (ŽRK Zamet), Dora Krsnik (Podravka Vegeta), Selena Milošević (Podravka Vegeta), Marijeta Vidak (Podravka Vegeta), Valentina Blažević (RK Sesvete Agroproteinka), Lana Franković (Podravka Vegeta), Anamarija Gugić (ŽRK Zamet)
TEXT: Jelena Bagaric / ts
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