PREVIEW: Croatia look for best result in front of home crowd at Beach Handball EURO 2017
Six years on, hopes the same
Six years on from the Beach Handball EURO 2011 in Umag, north-west Croatia, the EURO returns to the country, but this time the best European beach handball players will compete for glory on sand at Jarun Lake, south-west of capital city Zagreb.
Not content with being hosts and having the home fans behind them, Croatia are also one of the best beach handball nations not only in Europe but worldwide. This is particularly true for men’s team who have been crowned ‘Kings of Europe’ the past four times (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015).
The men are also current IHF World Champions, winning the title in Budapest last year, after beating Brazil 2-0 in the final, while the women’s side also have a gold beach handball medal in their cabinet, taking top spot at Umag in 2011 to make it a host nation sweep.
With the EURO on home sand, both Croatian teams aim to be at the top of their game – the men eager to continue their dominance, and the women to get back to the top.
Men’s coach Davor Rokavec wants to take another trophy and gold medal on home soil, but his side will face a tough test in Preliminary Group B as they compete against Ukraine, Serbia, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and France.
Ivan Jurić, one of the most experienced players in the Croatian team, is clear that this EURO is tight and anyone can win.
“We expect a good tournament with strong competition from all the teams,” said Jurić, who was voted MVP at the 2016 IHF World Championship. “Out of the 14 teams, probably 10 or even 12 can beat each other - it’s going to be really interesting to play in and to watch.
“We don’t put pressure on ourselves because this is our fifth chance for title,” he continued. “What coach Rokavec always says is that we are going to a tournament will give our best to win it - it’s not at all important what kind of tournament it is, it’s important that we play good and that we win.”
Since their world championship title last year Croatia have changed a few players with goalkeeper Igor Totić replacing Luka Bumbak, while Josip Jurić Grgić, a previous gold medal winner in 2015, returns to the squad after missing Budapest.
Home sand was a charm for the Croatian women in 2011 and they will hope to repeat it in Zagreb this time. Iva Kanjugović, who previously coached the junior national team, is the new senior coach and will oversee both teams in Zagreb.
“I became a head coach few months ago and there will certainly be changes in the team, such as rejuvenating the players,” said coach Kanjugović. “Also, we are hosts, so expectations are even greater, but I can promise that we will do our best to achieve the best result.”
Despite a new team, all players have some experience of big competitions; Josipa Grebenar, Martina Ćorković, Kristina Smiljanić and Lucija Kelava played two years ago at the EURO in Spain, while Nives Klobučar and Andrea Šimara were also there but in the junior competition.
With a mix of experience and youth, the Croatian women will aim to qualify from Preliminary Group C where they do battle with Italy, Spain, Greece and Switzerland.
TEXT: Jelena Bagaric / ts
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