Darko Stanic: "We are punching above our weight"Article
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HC Metalurg goalkeeper Darko Stanic talks about his team and their incredible journey this season.
 

Darko Stanic: "We are punching above our weight"

Macedonian champions Metalurg Skopje entered this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League as complete outsiders, but a string of superb performances in their first season in the continent’s premier club competition have made them the talk of Europe.

The club owes much of its success to Croatian coach Lino Cervar and Serbian goalkeeper Darko Stanic, who rejuvenated his career at Metalurg and carried his impressive EHF EURO 2012 form - where he was voted the Best Goalkeeper of the tournament - into the VELUX EHF Champions League.

In an exclusive interview with ehf-euro.com, Stanic revealed that Metalurg were looking for some fresh wind in their sails as they prepared for the return leg of Last 16 clash with Croatian title holders Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb.

"We are punching above our weight and paying the price for playing at the top of our limits in two competitions, the regional SEHA League and the VELUX EHF Champions League," Stanic said.

"Some of our key players are struggling with injuries and we really need a breather, because we don’t have as much depth in our squad as some of the other teams in either competition. But we can’t complain and will keep battling through adversity. Once we saw that we can stand our ground against anyone, we pushed ourselves to the limit and had we kept something in the tank ahead of the first leg against Zagreb, we might have won by a bigger margin," he added.

Metalurg and Zagreb have met three times this season, twice in the SEHA league where the Macedonian champions held the Croatians to a 19:19 draw on home soil before losing the reverse fixture 30:25.

The first leg of their VELUX EHF Champions League tie, which Metalurg won 19:18 largely thanks to another effervescent performance by Stanic who saved 45 percent of the shots that came his way, was very much a carbon copy of their earlier meeting in the Macedonian capital.

Stanic acknowledged Metalurg needed to produce a similar kind of gritty performance and force a physical, low-scoring contest against Zagreb if they are to advance to the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finals.

"It is a very unpredictable tie because the two teams have a very similar style," he added. "We play kindred handball with tough defences so I don’t think either side can count on scoring too many goals whenever we meet. Tiny details will decide the tie, we have a slender lead to defend and will certainly have to be at our best if we are to reach the quarter-finals," said Stanic.

The 33-year old goalkeeper, who drew a standing ovation from the home crowd in Skopje during the first leg, but pointed out that the success of the men’s team, who finished runners-up at EHF EURO 2012 on home soil in January to win the first handball medal for Serbia as an independent nation, should give the women’s team a confidence boost in their bid to emulate the success. However, a busy schedule this season made it difficult for him to follow the progress of the Serbian women’s national team in their bid to reach EHF EURO 2012 in the Netherlands later this year.

"Certainly, our success should be an impetus (for the women's team) and it would be great if they got into a position to be medal contenders in EHF EURO 2012," said Stanic.

And he stressed the men’s team were now under pressure to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London after exceeding expectations in EHF EURO 2012. Two teams from each of the qualifying groups will win Olympic berths.

"We have to put things into perspective and say it’s going to be very tough because we are in the most difficult qualifying group including hosts Spain, who are the strong favourites to finish top, Poland and Algeria," he said.

"While Algeria can also be awkward opponents because of their speed, it looks like the game against Poland could be crucial and although we beat them in EHF EURO 2012 at home, we are aware they will be a much tougher prospect in a neutral venue.

"We know everyone expects us to go through and prove our worth after doing so well in the European Championship but all we can promise is that we will play our hearts out, knowing that some of us may not get another chance to be a part of the Olympic dream." 


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic
 
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