Montenegro’s historic win against Serbia on Saturday would hardly have been possible without Nebojsa Simic’s heroics.
In an extremely hard-fought match, the goalkeeper made nine saves, and most of them in the crucial phase of the game, which helped him to become player of the match.
“As a goalkeeper, you always have to keep a cool head. Actually my game wasn’t so good before the last 15 to 20 minutes. But if you are patient and believe in yourself, sometimes you can turn it around, and that happened,” said the player from MT Melsungen, who will turn 27 on Sunday 19 January.
However, Simic also has to give credit to his teammates.
“It was a good team performance. We conceded only 21 goals, which is amazing. Our defence won us a game,” he says.
In the opening match against Croatia, Montenegro won the first half but ultimately lost 27:21.
“Was it frustrating?” Simic says of the match. “Yes and no. After such a first half, you believe you can do something, and then you get a reality check. Yet we fought hard and believed in ourselves, but if we had won, it would have been a huge surprise, something like Portugal beating France. To do this, you have to play 60 minutes perfectly, and we only played 30.
“But we kept our heads cool and came into the match with Serbia really energised. It was a really emotional win for us, so we are really pleased.”
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Crna Gora osigurala je direktan plasman u baraž za Svjetsko prvenstvo za rukometaše koje će 2021. godine biti održano u Egiptu. Pobjeda protiv Srbije donijela je ''lavovima'' najmanje treće mjesto u grupi A na Evropskom prvenstvu, time i siguran put u baraž koji se igra u junu. Naime, sistem kvalifikacija za šampionat svijeta je promijenjen i sada se igra u tri kruga. U toku su pretkvalifikacije u kojima su reprezentacije podijeljene u četiri grupe. Pobjednici grupa izboriće plasman u kvalifikacije u kojima im se pridružuje šest najslabije plasiranih timova sa Evropskog prvenstva koje je u toku. Kako su u pitanju selekcije koje će osvojiti posljednje mjesto u grupama, jasno je da je Crna Gora izbjegla kvalifikacije, koje su na programu u aprilu. Pobjednici pet kvalifikacionih duela iz aprila, idu u baraž koji se igra u junu. U baražu će igrati i 13 učesnika Evropskog prvenstva koje se održava u Austriji, Švedskoj i Norveškoj, a koje nijesu osigurale prolaz na planetarnu smotru najboljih selekcija. Žrijeb za baraž biće obavljen nakon Evropskog prvenstva. Nakon devet dvomeča baraža, biće poznati putnici na Svjetsko prvenstvo u Egiptu. Šampionat je na programu od 14. do 31. januara. Biće to prvi planetarni šampionat na kome će nastupiti 32, umjesto dosadašnja 24 učesnika. Pored domaćina, plasman je već obezbijedila Danska, kao aktuelni šampion svijeta.
This is the fifth EHF EURO for Montenegro, but following a draw with Russia in the debut match in 2008, the Balkan team went on to suffer 15 straight defeats before the long-awaited success on Saturday.
“We felt a huge pressure because we couldn’t win, and a loss in the match against Serbia would have been devastating for us,” he says.
As the proverb goes, appetite comes with eating, and now Montenegro’s goal is to progress to the main round. After two matches, they are level with Belarus on two points and need to beat their rivals in a direct duel on Monday.
“This is a Balkan mentality, you always want more. Our main goal for the tournament was to get the first ever victory, but now it is to reach the next round. And if we succeed, we’ll play for a semi-final spot,” he says.
“So the pressure is not off, it’s still there. In the past, one win was often enough to go through, but now it isn’t, so basically we haven’t achieved anything yet.”
The Montenegrin gives Belarus a favourite’s role on Monday.
“They have enough depth in their squad to make a rotation, their goalkeepers played really well in both games, and their line player Artsem Karalek is really amazing,” Simic says.
“Besides, they have been playing together for many years, they know each other and feel comfortable. And they are much more experienced than us, so we need to avoid mistakes. If we make them, Belarus will definitely punish us.”
That said, Simic is determined to get a positive result.
“Now our mentality is really strong, and we will do our best to win,” he concludes.