Cervar relishing clash with old friendsArticle
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HC Metalurg Skopje’s coach Lino Cervar under the spotlight as the Macedonian title holders meet Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb

Cervar relishing clash with old friends

HC Metalurg Skopje’s trophy-laden coach Lino Cervar will be the focus of attention when the Macedonian title holders meet Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb in what promises to be a mouth-watering two-leg tie between teams from the former Yugoslavia in this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League round of 16.

Former Croatian coach Cervar, who steered his country to the 2003 IHF World Championship title and the 2004 Olympic gold medal, also won eight successive national titles with Zagreb before moving southwards in 2009 to FYR Macedonia’s capital Skopje, where he claimed back-to-back league titles with the fast-improving Metalurg.

Having coached Croatia (2002-2010), Cervar will cross paths with many of the Zagreb stalwarts who carried the national team to success under his guidance, led by inspirational playmaker Ivano Balic. Although he will be able to read Zagreb’s strategy like an open book, the 50-year old coach acknowledged Zagreb are the favourites to reach the quarter-finals.

“We have nothing to lose against Zagreb, they are the odds-on favourites to progress,” Cervar told Croatian media after the two teams were pitted against each other.

“However, we have shown in the group stage of the competition that we are no pushovers as we were able to hold our own against all our rivals,” he said.

Metalurg, a rapidly developing team and the core of FYR Macedonia’s national side that finished fifth in January’s EHF EURO 2012 to snatch an Olympic qualifying berth, came third in Group C behind German champions HSV Hamburg and Slovenia’s Cimos Koper to earn their way to the Last 16 for the first time in the club’s history.

Metalurg have already held Zagreb to a 19:19 draw in this season’s regional SEHA League, incorporating teams from the former Yugoslavia, hence Cervar maintains that his team can give the Croatian champions a good run for their money in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

“It’s a very different competition, but Metalurg has shown maturity and motivation this season. The tie could go down to the wire because although we respect their stature, we are also aware of our own strength,” he said.

Metalurg’s middle back Naumce Mojsoski was even more specific about his team’s chances of advancing into the last eight. “Zagreb are 60-40 favourites, and we have to be cautious because we have shown weaknesses as well as strengths in the group stage of the competition. We have to keep technical errors down to a minimum and prepare well because it’s going to be a stern test of our credentials,” Mojsoski pointed out.

Metalurg’s official Zoran Handzinski added: “This is a big moment for Macedonian handball because we are rewriting the history of the country’s club handball and enjoying it. It will be a real treat for handball fans in Skopje, and we are hopeful of getting a good result in the first leg because our supporters will get behind us in full force.”

Zagreb’s senior officials also struck a note of caution, notably their coach Ivica Obrvan. “There are no secrets between these two teams, and we face a difficult task, especially because the first leg in Skopje will be played in the city’s Arena with a capacity of 7,000 seats,” Obrvan said.

“Metalurg is a strong and financially stable club led by the experienced and shrewd Lino Cervar. The frenetic support of their fans will make it very difficulty for us, and I think the odds are at a 50-50 tie, but playing the second leg at home is the one fortunate factor for us in what should be an enthralling encounter,” he added.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic