A ‘Zagreb kid’ dreams of winning the EHF Champions LeagueArticle
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RISING STARS OF 2015: PPD Zagreb goalkeeper Filip Ivic is regarded as one of the brightest talents in Croatian handball. In this ‘rising stars’ feature he speaks of his road of becoming one of the club’s key players and his fledging national team career

A ‘Zagreb kid’ dreams of winning the EHF Champions League

It was the World Championship 2015 match Croatia against Iran, when a 22-year-old youngster was given a chance to step up from the Croatian bench, with some big shoes to fill in – those of regular Croatian first choice goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic.

Given the opportunity to replace one of his role models in goal, Filip Ivic throve in the limelight, recording 19 saves in that match, immediately becoming a main talking point in the handball world.

However, he was no stranger to success from the early days as he had captained the Croatian youth national team to gold at the Men’s 18 EHF EURO 2010.

"I believe in hard work, dedication and discipline as the foundation to any success," says Ivic.

Zagreb kid

But when in 2003 a then 11-year-old Filip set foot at a Zagreb match for the first time, only in his dreams he could have foreseen having such an illustrious career 11 years later.

"Being a Zagreb kid, I have attended every single Champions League match Zagreb played since 2003," says Ivic.

"I still have all the tickets from these matches. I used to collect players’ signatures on the back of them,” he says about his humble beginnings, back in a day when putting on the blue Zagreb jersey in front of the full arena was just a dream.

Today, Ivic is a key player for PPD Zagreb, but the youngster says he owes much of his success to one man - the legendary Zagreb and Croatia national team goalkeeper Mario Kelentric, an all-important figure his career.

"I owe a lot to Mario. I have always looked up to him. He has had a lot of influence on my career first as a teammate, then as a coach, and now as a friend.

"He took me under his wing from my early days, and guided me every step of the way," says Ivic about his role model and friend, who won gold medal with Croatia at the World Championship 2003 in Portugal.

Best of both worlds

There is a distinct flavour of goalkeeping most former Yugoslav countries teach. This 'Yugoslavian school' is prominent in the style of many goalkeepers that have emerged through the decades.

Filip Ivic on the other hand brings the best of both worlds, with amazing talent, stellar technique and diverse role models.

"I grew up watching (Danijel) Saric and (Arpad) Sterbik. They were my earliest role models.

"I also enjoy watching (Thierry) Omeyer and (Niklas) Landin – they are prime examples of flawless technique," he says.

"I was privileged to play alongside legends such as Kelentric, (Venio) Losert, and Alilovic. Just thinking about what they have accomplished throughout their careers says a lot.

"But there’s still time for me," he admits.

"The upcoming EHF EURO qualifications, the EURO 2016 in Poland and the Olympic Games are a big opportunity for my generation to step up."

Dreams become reality

Ivic made his VELUX EHF Champions League debut for Zagreb at the age of 19, seeing one of his dreams come true.

In 2012, following the departures of Marin Sego and Ivan Pesic, he soon made the starting spot his own.

"It meant the world to me (making a VELUX EHF Champions League debut). I couldn’t wait to put on the shirt again," he recalls.

"Zagreb is playing well this season in the Champions League. We have won all our home matches for the first time since 2005.

"We’ve started our current season with big ambitions, but I’m also aware a lot of work and dedication goes into every win. In the Last 16 we will take on a strong, aggressive Kolding side, which has quality and experience.

"We have a one of the best defences, and one of the highest attendances in the Champions League, so we are looking to make a mark this season – it’s been three years since Zagreb went further than the Group Phase.

"I dream of the FINAL4 and a chance to lift the Champions League trophy. No one would be happier than me to do it with Zagreb."

"Dreams can come true, but I never get carried away - there’s still lot of room for improvement.

"Sometimes I even surprise myself, and surpass my own expectations with some great performances," says the promising goalkeeper.

The rising handball stars of 2015

Part 1: Niko Mindegia (ESP) / Pick Szeged: "I dream of playing at the next EHF EURO"

Part 2: Kentin Mahé (FRA) / HSV Hamburg: Walking proudly in his father's steps

Part 3: Sander Sagosen (NOR) / Aalborg Handball: "I want to be the best in the world"

Part 4: Nikola Bilyk (AUT) / Fivers WAT Margareten: "Dreaming of becoming handball's Michael Jordan"

Part 5: Michal Szyba (POL) / Gorenje Velenje: A 'watchmaker' on his way to the peak

Part 6: Michal Kasal (CZE) / Futebol Clube do Porto: A new Jicha on the horizon

Part 7: Nikola Portner (SUI) / Kadetten Schaffhausen: A new ambassador for Swiss handball

Part 8: Dario Polman (NED) / Targos Bevo HC: Like brother, like sister

TEXT: Nemanja Savic / ts