Less than a week after the end of the European championship, the time has come for the second part of SEHA – Gazprom League’s ninth season to start with first Play Off matches. One of the participants of the grand finale played in Stockholm between Croatia and Spain was Croatia’s assistant coach Hrvoje Horvat – head coach of Nexe. With memories of that 22:20 loss, Horvat already has to shift his focus towards the team from Slavonia and SEHA – Gazprom League. But, before that, we talked to him for our new 7M interview.
Did you have time to rest after the European championship?
Not too much. Only a day after it we were welcomed and celebrated with our fans in Zagreb after which I arrived here in Nasice for the first training session. I wouldn’t say I’m feeling physically exhausted though, more like mentally but when you achieve a result as good as we did it is much easier to keep up the same tempo.
Which moment can you highlight and say you’ll remember it for the rest of your life?
Every match is special. I think the match against Germany served as a major booster for us. What can I say about the semi-final against Norway? I’ll remember every second of it, especially Domagoj Duvnjak and his seven-meter goal to give us another shot at winning the match. Another thing I’ll forever have in my mind is the fact we were 19:18 up but failed to take that gold medal. Despite of that, I feel like we’ve achieved a big result which is why I’d like to use the opportunity to thank and congratulate all the players and staff members.
First medal for you on the big stage as an assistant coach. However, you know what it takes to become both European and World champion.
Well, yes, kind of because I was a part of Croatian beach national handball team. Interesting sport, without doubt, but still in process of creation. So yeah, I’m a two-time European champ and one-time World champion. I have a few more medals but what I can say is that it feels quite different from indoor handball, completely different experience.
You have been away, with the Croatian national team, for more than a month. How did it work for Nexe considering the fact they were forced to prepare for the second part of the season without their head coach?
That is certainly not something that happens a lot but I have really great assistants who I fully trust and they did an excellent job – my assistant coach Franjo Lelic, goalkeeper coach Nino Pavelic and conditioning coach Mirko Krolo. However, I have to add that even if I was there we wouldn’t be able to do things normally with a lot of our players being absent due to national team duties as well – Croatian both senior and junior national team players, Zivan Pesic with Serbia and Mario Tomic with Qatar. What I would honestly like is that all of our players receive calls from their respective national teams during these breaks.
Only six days after the match between Croatia and Spain in Stockholm, Nexe will open the second part of SEHA - Gazprom League season meeting Eurofarm Pelister on Saturday. You already have experience of playing against them from last year’s EHF Cup.
They have progressed from last season, now they are playing in Champions League. Bitola is a handball city and with a great sponsor their story just kept on going. Big advantage for them will be the fact we’ll play the second leg in Bitola which is why we really have to focus to deliver a great performance in the first match in front of our fans.
It will be interesting to see the duel of two Croatian coaches with former Croatian national team coach Zeljko Babic leading Eurofarm. Babic already has SEHA experience from the times he was coaching Meshkov Brest and Gorenje Velenje.
Another big advantage for Eurofarm Pelister. He is a great coach who knows our team and our players and we, on the other hand, haven’t seen any of their matches since Babic arrived to Macedonia. New coach always brings some new ideas.
What will be Nexe’s goal for the final part of SEHA – Gazprom League season?
We want to get through to the next round, prove everyone we’re better than Eurofarm Pelister. We’ll really be able to test our capabilities in these matches. In case we get through we’ll also award our fans with two more matches against reigning European champs Vardar. And then, if you ask me whether we’re capable of defeating them and booking a place for ourselves on the final tournament I’ll say it is possible but a lot will depend on them. But first we have to focus on Saturday and the match against the other Macedonian representative in the competition.