Record-chasing Horvat looking forward to KielArticle
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Zagreb winger in pole position to finish as top scorer

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Record-chasing Horvat looking forward to Kiel

Stunned by the quick succession of events which have rocked Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb in the last few days, the club’s prolific winger Zlatko Horvat told in an exclusive interview he was fired up for their mouth-watering VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-final clash with German rivals THW Kiel.

Their shock 30:29 defeat by Macedonians Vardar Skopje in the regional SEHA League semi-final resulted in the sacking of coach Ivica Obrvan last week.

But although Zagreb will start as underdogs in the two-leg tie against the 2007 and 2010 Champions League winners, Horvat is confident the Croatian title holders can return to winning ways and defy the odds to reach next month’s VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. Horvat, who is the VELUX EHF Champions League top scorer with 80 goals, also has a personal motive to advance into the season-ending showpiece event in order to claim the elusive honour which only a handful of handball greats have won down the years.

"It would be nice to be the top scorer in the VELUX EHF Champions League, but in order to do that we have to reach the FINAL4 because Mikkel Hansen and Kiro Lazarov are breathing down my neck and they could have an extra two games to beat me if we don’t qualify," Horvat said. "Of course, team success is more important and my first priority is for Zagreb to beat Kiel although that will be a mountain to climb. The fact that I am in the driving seat is down to unselfish play from my team mates, who are always looking to pass the ball to me in fast breaks. Our style of play suits me and they deserve the lion’s share of the credit," added Horvat.

AG Kobenhavn’s Hansen, who is second with 79 goals, will have an equally daunting task as his team take on holders Barcelona while Atletico Madrid’s Macedonian sharpshooter Lazarov (74 goals) could be the favourite to emerge as the winner in the home straight. Atletico are up against Slovenian upstarts Cimos Koper and Lazarov, who was the EHF EURO 2012 top scorer after enjoying an outstanding individual tournament, will in all likelihood have another four games to add more goals to his Champions League tally as he, Hansen and Horvat aim to break Nenad Perunicic’s seemingly untouchable record of 122 goals in a single season.

With the clash against Kiel beckoning, Horvat gave his account of a turbulent weekend at Zagreb which saw Obrvan dismissed to make way for his former team mate and Croatia national team coach Slavko Goluza.

"It was definitely the worst possible time to have a dip in form which forced that decision but there is nothing we can do about in now," said Horvat. "We have to look forward to the upcoming challenge and Goluza’s arrival should reinvigorate things so that we can produce our best handball against Kiel. Even that might not be enough to knock them out because in my opinion they are the best team in the competition. They have all the top backcourt players one could ask for, but each and every player in their roster is a constant threat because they operate like a well-oiled machine. They are not unstoppable though and apart from a trademark tough defence, our strength is also the fact that all the pressure is on them. We have a similar style of play so we have to try to beat them at their own game based on lots of fast breaks and easy goals," Horvat pointed out.

The speedy winger, who won the EHF EURO 2012 bronze medal with Croatia, also looked ahead to the upcoming Olympic Games where the 1996 and 2004 winners will be aiming for their third gold medal.

"It will be the strongest field ever in the Olympics so any podium finish will be a feat but we are definitely up for it. Seven or eight teams are thinking the same way though so it should be a fiercely competitive tournament," Horvat stressed.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic