23/12/2019

Croatia dream of another semi-final

MEN’S EHF EURO 2020 COUNTDOWN #9: Croatia. The Balkan side have consistently performed at an international level and are seeking to put recent setbacks behind them

Croatia have won three Olympic titles and one world championship gold medal in the past, but were disappointed with fifth place at their home EHF EURO in 2018. Croatia have never won a European title, and with each participation they are trying to change that. With a talented squad in the spotlight, head coach Lino Cervar will try to make Croatia tough opponents to beat.

Three questions before the EHF EURO 2020:

- Can Croatia reach the semi-finals?

The first obstacle for Croatia is group A of the EHF EURO 2020. They will face Belarus, Montenegro and Serbia. For Lino Cervar’s squad these are well-known opponents, especially Serbia and Montenegro – but if all goes as planned, a group win is within Croatia’s grasp. The main round would prove trickier, with group A’s qualifiers set to face the two best teams from groups B and C.

“We will not promise anything, but we're aiming for the top. Group B is unpredictable, while from group C I expect Spain and Germany. That will be a real challenge,” says Cervar.

- Will Cervar and the team be under pressure?

Lino Cervar came back to the national team ahead of EHF EURO 2018, wishing to repeat his greatest achievements. The failure to do so in front of Croatian fans was a disappointment for both the team and their supporters. Nothing changed at the 2019 World Championship in Germany and Denmark, so all eyes will be on Cervar and the squad in their attempt to restore the side to glory.

- What are the expectations?

Croatia do not hide the fact they wish to be in the battle for medals. However, they are aware that reaching the semi-finals will not be easy. Cervar and his team will give everything to prepare their strategy for their known opponents and maintain their performance at a high level, especially after a long club season.

''Wishes are one thing, possibilities other. This EHF EURO brings a new playing system and it will not be easy. We always have high ambitions, but we have to be realistic,” says national team director Igor Vori.

“Even though our group A seems to be an easier one, we have tough opponents. I always say to the players that you have to give your best against all opponents, not to underestimate anyone. I hope that everyone will be ready for the start of the championship, especially our key players,” Vori adds.

Under the spotlight: Luka Cindric

In the back court, Croatia have many excellent players, and Luka Cindric in particular is always in the spotlight. Cindric had an interesting road from Karlovac and Metalurg to Vardar and Kielce, and is now playing for VELUX EHF Champions League powerhouses Barça. The creative player is a goal machine who will be one of the most important players on the court for Croatia.

“We must not fear anyone, I know we can give our best. Most important is that injuries bypass us,” says a confident Cindric.

Self-esteem

With every competition, teams’ veterans say goodbye while newcomers seek to fill their shoes on the big stage. Croatia usually aim to be a mixture of mostly experienced players buoyed with fresh blood from a few youngsters and this EHF EURO will not be an exception. That always gives confidence to a team fighting for wins in a big competition.

Fun fact

Croatia will play their first matches of the EHF EURO 2020 in Graz, only 180 km from Croatia’s capital Zagreb. The Croatian ‘Cowboys’ will have great support from the stands as many fans are expected to travel to Graz. The same would apply for the main round in Vienna, if Croatia qualify. Croatians love handball, January is always reserved for major competition and the short distance to the matches are a big plus for Cervar’s squad as fan support can be a huge boost for the team.

What the numbers say

This will be Croatia’s 14th appearance at the EHF EURO. Since the first EHF EURO took place in 1994, Croatia has won five medals - silver in 2008 and 2010 and bronze in 1994, 2012 and 2016. They have never won gold at the EHF EURO.

written by Danijela Lemaic / jh