Ratko Nikolic: We are secret favouritesArticle
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Eurohandball.com talks to Ratko Nikolic, who is optimistic before decisive match against Cimos Koper in Pamplona.

Ratko Nikolic: We are secret favourites

Eurohandball.com talks to Ratko Nikolic, who is optimistic before decisive match against Cimos Koper in Pamplona. The Serbian international comments on the complicated situation in Group E, the busy schedule of top clubs and the tiring trips.

Eurohandball.com: Portland had a lot of changes respect to last season: Balic left, Saric and Nikcevic arrived. Pamplona is stronger or weaker than last season?

Not easy for a line player...Ratko Nikolic: We gained a lot with the new players, Nikcevic and Saric. But we lost a lot when Ivano Balic left. It’s not even so important whether he is playing or not: Balic is Balic. Personally, I miss him a lot because we knew each other and we had a very good cooperation. With him on court it is a totally different story. But what can we do? Anyway, I think we have a good team and we can win something this year.

Eurohandball.com: Nikcevic had injury problems, while Saric plays a lot.

Ratko Nikolic: Nikcevic had a knee injury, but now he is okay. That is very good news. Regarding Saric, he shares time in the goal with Svenson and he is doing very well.

Eurohandball.com: You lost two games in Group E (against Chechov and Koper). Now Portland, Chechovskie and Steaua have 6 points with a chance to reach the Main round. No mistake is allowed against Koper if you want to qualify for the second round...

Ratko Nikolic: It’s true. We lost in Russia by 8 goals, but we had a lot of problems. First of all with the visas. Three players received their visas just a day before the game and then we travelled the whole night, arrived in Russia early in the morning and in the afternoon we had to play.

It would be better not to play in such circumstances. We were very close to win in Koper, but at that point there was a more important match was against Granollers in Asobal league for us.  Now Koper are coming to Pamplona so I think that won’t be problem for us.

Eurohandball.com: The game in Chechov came in a busy period as it came just 48 hours after the game against Logrono in the Spanish league. Can you be focused every match with such a dense schedule?

The new Serbian team mate, Saric, was a good signing for PortlandRatko Nikolic: Indeed, that was horrible, especially because we had a lot of injured players. At a point, there were only nine players in the team, so we even had to rely on a younger player who is only 18.  We played on Tuesday evening, then travelled all day long and played another match. This is really cruel. It is impossible to avoid injuries and you have to have two good players for every position to keep a good level with today’s quick handball. 

And when you could have a break, all players go to their national teams. I was the only player who played 60 minutes because of the injury of Perez. The coach tried to help me and did not put me in defence all the time. This rhythm exhausts a player totally. At a certain moment I just wanted to say: “Folks, I can't do it anymore. I want to go home.” This is a catastrophe. We are so tired from all the trips...

Eurohandball.com: Apart from Kiel and Ciudad Real, who could win the CL this season?

Ratko Nikolic: Ciudad Real, Kiel, Barcelona and Zagreb. Zagreb will cause problems for many big teams.

And also, there we are. We are secret favourites. It is not wise to joke about us. This is the best position for Portland. Nobody will take us for a serious title candidate. When we were favourites we didn’t reach much. From that point of view, this is better. When all injured players return, it will be a different situation.

TEXT: Ivan Ambros