Star Duvnjak lets Croatia shine
Handball in Croatia has a special place and during January all eyes are on head coach Lino Cervar’s national team.
The 21 players in the Croatian squad are not only preparing for the 13-31 January World Championship 2021 in Egypt, they are also playing two matches in the EHF EURO Cup 2022.
No others than Spain are the opponents in both games. Those are rematches of the EHF EURO 2020 final, where Spain successfully defended their title, leaving Croatia the silver medal.
The first of the two duels, in Porec on Tuesday, went Croatia’s way, 31:28. The second is scheduled in Madrid on Saturday at 20:00 CET (live on EHFTV).
Duvnjak continued training like not getting tired at all
The figurehead of the Croatian success is Domagoj Duvnjak.
The centre back, nicknamed ‘Dule,’ had no time to rest. Only a few days after winning the VELUX EHF FINAL4 with THW Kiel, he put on the Croatia national team jersey and continued with training like not getting tired at all.
Duvnjak, the team’s leader both on and off the court, had an amazing 2020 and, with Tuesday’s win over Spain, has enjoyed a good start into 2021, as well.
“No matter how weird it may sound, but 2020 was one of the best years for me,” Duvnjak said. “It started with a silver medal at the EHF EURO 2020 and a great atmosphere. After some difficult times due to COVID-19, we (Kiel) became German champions after five long years. And at the end of this challenging year we won EHF Champions League and climbed to the top after eight years.”
There was good news on a personal level, as well, as Duvnjak became a father last year.
“So really, no matter all the bad things happening and heart-breaking stories happening in my Croatia and rest of the Europe, personally it was a good year.”
During the half-time break of the Spain game, the annual handball awards of Croatia were presented, and Duvnjak scooped the ‘best player’ award for the fifth time. He also was crowned Croatia’s best sportsman in 2020.
“It was an amazing year for Croatian handball, both men and women. Two medals from EHF EURO competitions, both teams were voted best sports team in Croatia, and I received two individual awards after the MVP ones in January and the Bundesliga,” Duvnjak said.
“I just hope we will continue to make people in Croatia happy in the following weeks, too.”
Coaches Lino Cervar and Nenad Sostaric, goalkeeper Tea Pijevic, and referees Matija Gubica and Boris Milosevic were the other awardees.
Duvnjak is a player who lives for his teammates
The current good times come only three years after Duvnjak’s bad start to 2018. Dreaming of leading Croatia to a medal at their home EHF EURO, he got injured in the opening match against Serbia and was ruled out for the remainder of the event.
The mishap broke his heart. Duvnjak is a player who lives for his teammates.
Knee problems forced him to wait before showing again what he is capable of.
Important for both attack and defence, Duvnjak was back to his best when everything fell into place at the Men’s EHF EURO 2020.
From then on, Duvnjak has helped Kiel and Croatia shine. With the national team, he faces the next challenge when they travel to Spain.
"A sweet start of our World Championship path"
Jordi Ribera’s team are hoping for their first win in the EHF EURO Cup 2022, after they also lost to Hungary in November.
Croatia, however, want to continue their winning streak and travel to Egypt with three wins from three games in the EHF EURO Cup, which also includes EHF EURO 2022 co-hosts Slovakia.
“Most important thing is that we entered 2021 with a win against Spain. That is important for us. Spain are strong opponents and I know that we will give our best to win in Madrid also. It would be a sweet start of our World Championship path,” Duvnjak said.
“Teams always hide some things in matches prior to the big competition but knowing that we won gives us additional wind in the back.”