Few teams would fancy locking horns with Norway in any major event but especially when it comes to women’s international handball, but Serbia coach Sasha Boskovic was overjoyed after Friday’s draw in Monaco pitted the EHF EURO 2012 hosts with the current World, Olympic and European champions.
The other two teams in Preliminary Round Group A, to be played in Belgrade’s Pionir Hall, are eastern European rivals Czech Republic and Ukraine and the Group’s composition guarantees tough battles for three Main Round berths.
Norwegian fans expects in Belgrade
Boskovic, whose main goal was to prepare Serbia for next year’s IHF World Championship, also to be held in the Balkan country, now has to deal with growing expectations to do well on home soil in EHF EURO 2012. He was confident his team could only benefit in more ways than one from playing Norway, the odds-on favourites to retain their 2010 crown.
“The draw gave us exactly what I wanted because 2,500 visiting fans will arrive in Pionir to support Norway and this should be an incentive for our own fans to turn up in droves as well as for my team to perform on top of their limits,” Boskovic told Belgrade daily Sporstki Zurnal.
“They are undoubtedly the best team in the world and the strong favourites but I am confident that we can beat Ukraine and the Czechs, which will be essential to advance into the Main Round. On the other hand, 99 percent of our team is based abroad and almost all of the players are involved in the Champions League and that means we will have very little time to prepare for the European Championship.
“Our main goal remains to hit top form for the 2013 World Championship but we can only do that if we perform well in EHF EURO 2012. We will need all the fan support we can get to do that and with the crowd behind us, all kinds of miracles are possible,” he said.
Two major handball events at home
Serbia’s players were also happy with the draw and left back Sanja Damjanovic said taking centre stage in front of a patriotic home crowd was a motive an improving Serbian team should take advantage of.
“We could never dream we’d be able to play two major events in a row on home soil and that’s an honour much better Serbian teams than ourselves were denied. We had star-studded outfits which never got that chance, hence we have to make our quality count and give our fans a lot to cheer about,” she said.
Captain Andrea Lekic concurred. “Norway are the favourites but what we have to do is take as many points as possible into the Main Round because it is in fact a kind draw for us. I don’t know much about the Czech Republic and Ukraine because I have never played against them but I think we have had a bigger slice of luck in the draw than last time,” Lekic pointed out.
Both Damjanovic and Lekic acknowledged the other three Preliminary Round groups were likely to produce handball of exceptional quality.
Group B in the southern city of Nis, where FYR Macedonia will in all likelihood be supported by thousands of fanatical supporters eager to make the short trip across the border when they clash with Sweden, France and Denmark.
Group C in Novi Sad is delicately balanced featuring Croatia, Hungary, Germany and Spain.
Group D in Vrsac, comprising Romania, Montenegro, Russia and Iceland, is also set to generate fascinating battles for berths in the Main Round.
“The Nis group will treat fans to fantastic handball because although the Macedonians might not be the favourites, their fans will be like an extra man on the court,” said Lekic.
The men’s EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia, when they also played their Preliminary Round Group in Nis and finished fifth in the final rankings, showed in no uncertain terms how valuable crowd support can be,” she added.