Horvat: “We only stand a chance if we play like warriors in defence”Article
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FEATURE: Nexe have already achieved an historic result by qualifying for the EHF Cup Quarter-finals, but coach Hrvoje Horvat hopes they can use Füchse Berlin’s weak spots to surprise the German team on the home court.
»2017-18 Men's News
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Horvat: “We only stand a chance if we play like warriors in defence”

Nexe are now where they have never been before – in the EHF Cup Quarter-finals. This is the biggest achievement in the club’s history.

However, they face an extremely tough task if they want to beat that record and qualify for the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals 2018. On Saturday, Nexe will take on Bundesliga powerhouse Füchse Berlin in the first-leg quarter-final, before travelling to Germany for the return match the following weekend.

This season of the EHF Cup has been a long journey for the Croatian vice-champions. They started in Qualification Round 2, beating Estonian team Pölva Serviti and earning their group phase ticket after defeating Danish side Ribe-Esbjerg HH over two matches in Qualification Round 3.

For the group phase, Nexe were drawn into Group C, where they finished second behind another quarter-finalist, Frisch Auf Göppingen, against whom they lost both encounters.

Two consecutive defeats in the Croatian play-offs

Looking ahead to the quarter-final clash with the Berlin ‘Foxes’, the Nexe ‘Thunders’ cannot draw so much confidence from their position in the Croatian championship. The team have lost their last two matches to EHF Cup Qualification Round 3 participants RK Dubrava and GRK Varazdin 1930 – and now their rank of second is at stake.

On the other hand, Nexe have already secured a place at the Final Four for the Croatian Cup.

“The latest result against Varazdin speaks for itself. I don’t really want to comment more on that. I just want to praise my players for their approach, and the will and fighting spirit they showed,” coach Hrvoje Horvat told eurohandball.com.

“That’s what we need in the matches against Berlin. We need to be even more concentrated and play with patience.”

Horvat’s team have been fully focused on the European competition after this year’s result in the SEHA – Gazprom League. Nexe finished eighth out of 10 teams, which is their worst result in seven SEHA seasons.

“Use any weak link they show”

Nexe need to put the Croatian championship aside for a moment and shift their focus to Füchse Berlin. The small town of Nacice will host the 2014/15 winners in a full Kralj Tomislav sports hall for the first quarter-final on Saturday.  

“As far as the match against Berlin is concerned, I expect that we’ll play our best game with great fighting spirit and that we try to use any weak link they show during the match,” says Horvat, who was assistant coach for Croatia with Lino Cervar during the EHF EURO 2018.

“We will only stand a chance against them if we are aggressive and play like warriors in defence throughout 60 minutes of the match. We over-respected Göppingen and didn’t use our chances, so we need to change that as well in these matches against Berlin.”

Horvat emphasises that Füchse will play a difficult Bundesliga match against Kiel on Thursday, which may create some weak spots for Nexe to use.

“They have a match against Kiel and their focus will, at least a bit, be on that, so that’s where I also see our chance. If that happens, we need to embrace that chance and use it.”

Nexe have had injury problems with a few players recently, but all of them should be ready for the EHF Cup Quarter-final clash in Nasice. Marko Buvinic missed the last match against Varazdin in the Croatian championship, but will be fit to play against Berlin.

Though recent results in the domestic championship have downgraded their performances a little, it has been a positive season for Nexe. However, Horvat says it is crucial to secure second place in the Croatian championship, which is in jeopardy after the two consecutive defeats, and qualify for the SEHA League 2018/19.

“The season so far has been very successful in my opinion. We achieved an historic result for the club by reaching the quarter-finals of the EHF Cup.

“However, that won’t mean a lot if we fail to qualify for the SEHA League next year. So, the overall grade of this season can only be given after we qualify for SEHA League,” concluded Horvat.

TEXT: Jelena Bagaric / cg