20200922 Irun Nexe Pribetic 2000Px (1)
EHF European League

Nexe primed to take the next step

EHF / Chris O'Reilly

RK Nexe already battled through one of the toughest qualification matches and look set to make a splash in the EHF European League group phase.

  • in their 12th consecutive season in Europe’s second-tier club competition
  • already atoned for last season’s early EHF Cup exit, losing to Benfica in round 3
  • lost to eventual champions Berlin by a single goal in the 2018/19 quarter-final
  • 22-year-old Halil Jaganjac top scored with 11 goals in qualification

The burning question – Can Nexe become the pride of Croatian handball?

While their domestic rivals HC PPD Zagreb toil away in the EHF Champions League, struggling to get a victory or two every season, RK Nexe have developed a taste for winning in Europe, albeit in the second-tier competition.

A regular in the old EHF Cup group phase and coming within a whisker of the final tournament two years ago, everyone in the European League will be aware of the threats posed by the men in green.

SC Magdeburg and Montpellier HB are the heavyweights in group C but coach Hrvoje Horvat is ready to give them an uncomfortable trip to Nasice.

“In our little town, no opponent can be sure of winning. We are sure that we give the last atom of strength to win every game,” Horvat said.

With some battle-hardened pros and rising stars such as Halil Jaganjac, Nexe already came through the toughest tie in round 2, beating Bidasoa Irun 56:54, and club captain Marko Mrdenović is quietly confident of a good run this season.

“I see us having a chance to go through the group phase, which is tough. With a little bit of luck, we seek the chance to go to the quarter-finals,” Mrdenović said.

Signature players

Star in the making - Halil Jaganjac

This 22-year-old left back looks set to enjoy a breakthrough season in Europe. Jaganjac has been highly touted since his move to PSG in 2016, where he played in their second team for a season, then set the SEHA league alight as the competition’s top scorer with Metalurg a year later.

He appears to have finally settled with Nexe. With good movement on the ball, a combative nature in attack and a powerful jump shot, Jaganjac was key in the dramatic round 2 victory over Irun with 11 goals over the two games and we can expect more of the same in the group phase.

Returning hero - Janko Kević

The return of Janko Kević to Nexe in January saw his career come full circle. Having spent much of his early career with the Nasice club between 2004 and 2012, he embarked on a journey which took him to Qatar’s top clubs, Plock in Poland, Göztepe in Turkey and most recently Constanta in Romania.

The 34-year-old playmaker has an eye for assists as well as being capable of banging in the goals, as he displayed with his six goals away to Irun in round 2.

Safe hands - Mario Tomić

It is not unusual in handball to see players capable of playing in more than one position but Mario Tomić takes the biscuit with his transformation from a goalkeeper to a line player. Having played European Cup handball with RK Medvescak in goal, his move to Siscia in 2011 saw him move to the line, where he still plays today.

Tomić spent five seasons in Qatar with Al Sadd and has since become a Qatari international, but his commitment to Nexe cannot be questioned since he joined the club in 2017. The 32-year-old recently signed a contract until 2026 with the club, ensuring he will see out his career in Nasice.

A night to remember

After years of knocking on the door in the EHF Cup, Nexe finally broke through to the quarter-final in 2017/18, where they went in as massive underdogs against Füchse Berlin.

The German side arrived to Nasice on 21 April 2018 understrength yet full of top talent, but that could not help them against an inspired Nexe side.

Apart from a 2:0 lead for Füchse at the beginning, Nexe dominated the first half. A strong home defence and a brilliant Kristian Pilipovic in goal meant the visitors only scored five goals in the first 22 minutes of the first half.

The Nexe attack made use of this to change a 5:4 deficit into a 9:5 lead, and the hosts were five up again at 11:6 before taking a three-goal lead with them to half-time.

In the second half, a powerful Nexe defence continued to cause Füchse trouble, as did Sasa Barisic with eight goals. Leading by as much as 10 before finally winning by eight, it was a clear sign that Nexe belonged at this stage.

Berlin turned it around in the second leg at home, winning by a single goal on aggregate en route to winning the title.

Arrivals and departures

Newcomers: Mateo Rodin (Nancy, FRA), Aleksandar Bakić (RK Kumovi, MNE)   

Left the club: Ivan Sršen (Wetzlar, GER), Marin Greganić (Bolzano, ITA), Tomislav Kvastek (RK Umag)

Past achievements

EHF Cup:
Quarter-final (1): 2017/18
Group Phase (2): 2014/15, 2018/19
Last 16 (1): 2011/12
Round 3: 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2019/20
Round 2: 2012/13          

Croatian league: -
Croatian cup: -

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