EHF EURO 2012
Final: Serbia vs. Denmark
Belgrade, Beogradska Arena
29 January 2012, 17:00 hrs
The captivating two-week EHF EURO 2012 reaches its climax on Sunday 29 January at 17:00 hrs local time, when hosts Serbia take on EHF EURO 2008 winners Denmark in what should be a classic long to be remembered by handball fans across Europe.
The Serbians, who will once again be roared on by 20,000 passionate home fans in the imposing Belgrade Arena, are seeking their first title in any major handball tournament as an independent nation while the Danes are looking to emulate their success of four years ago in Norway.
If past records are anything to go by Denmark should head into the final as favourites, having beaten Serbia time and again in recent years. But the host nation has performed above expectations on home soil, hence the mouth-watering contest is as unpredictable as most matches in the strength-sapping tournament have been.
Serbia will take heart from their Preliminary Round group win over the Danes but the Scandinavians will be confident after raising their game in the Main Round and enjoying four successive wins to reach the final.
“We had not beaten Denmark in seven or eight years before our 24:22 win over them in the Pionir Hall and doing it again would be a remarkable feat because they have improved beyond recognition since,” Serbia coach Veselin Vukovic told reporters during the EHF EURO 2012 Media Day on Saturday.
“They reached the final with a touch of luck and a whole lot of quality, but playing in front of 20,000 home fans supporting Serbia could rattle them.
“The final is a specific match because the best team doesn’t always win. Although several of my players are battling injury problems, we will give everything we have out there to cross the finish line first,” said Vukovic.
The Serbian coach acknowledged Denmark had been a different side since their defeats by Serbia and Poland in the Preliminary Round made way for a string of impressive performances.
“Bo Spellerberg’s arrival to the Danish squad has added a new dimension to their setup because he is a versatile playmaker who makes things happen. On the other hand, we will apply the same strategy which proved successful in our first game against Denmark and also look at what their weaknesses were in slender wins over FYR Macedonia and Spain.
They have problems every time their opponents change their defensive formations so we will try to come up with a surprise or two in the final,” Vukovic stressed.
The coach, a trophy-laden former Yugoslavia pivot who won the 1984 Olympics and the 1986 World Championship, outlined what his team lacking the kind of experience required in a gold medal match needed to do in order to come out on top.
“My players need to know that finals are also specific in the sense that a fringe player could decide it, hence they must all be ready to perform like match winners against the Danes. There is no individual pressure, we will stand united as a team once again. Although they’ve had more time to recuperate, we will do everything we can to take this once in a lifetime chance to win the title on home soil,” Vukovic said.
His opposite number Ulrik Wilbek made it clear in no uncertain terms that Denmark needed to change their approach if they were to turn the tables on Serbia and avenge their Preliminary Round defeat by the host nation.
“In the first match against them we played much too slow, as Serbia forced us to. We lost this game in attack, so we will change our attack. We should not be too fast, but need to find the middle way,” said Wilbek.
“I hope that we will be able to cut through their defence, which will be the biggest problem. We will have to wait for our chances and be patient, but we also need more speed. I believe we are strong enough to stand them in an even bigger Arena. We are not afraid of facing the Serbs and their spectators,” Denmark’s coach added.
The frenetic home crowd support has been a telling factor for Serbia and their centre back Dalibor Cutura invited another raucous evening in the Beogradska Arena, where visiting teams have found it difficult to cope with the noise level.
“I am confident the home crowd support will at least be enough to keep us in the game till the very end. With a bit of luck, we will come out on top against a very good Danish team. I think we have earned respect from the other teams in this competition after reaching the final. Building this Serbian team has been a long process and what we lacked in the past to win silverware was a bit of luck,” Cutura said.
“Now that everything fell into place we achieved our objectives when we needed to the most, in front of our home fans. The fact that we trailed Croatia by a solitary goal at halftime while we performed well below our limits shows that we have matured as a team,” he added.
“Once again, we have to contain Denmark’s fast breaks and that means we have to play good defence. I hope the atmosphere in the Beogradska Arena will rattle them a bit and force them to commit a few turnovers but either way the pressure is off us after we reached our maiden EHF EURO final,” Serbia’s playmaker underscored.
Denmark’s Rasmus Lauge cut the figure of a calm and composed competitor ahead of the final. “It is great feeling to know what you have in your hands. I know that I can be part of a great experience and sport history. I am not nervous,” Lauge said.