16 January 2017
It’s often you have a coaching team that is so packed with handball idols carrying years of top-level experience with them and a vast array of medals; we sat down with Croatian assistant Petar Metlicic to find out what their setup is like.
Except for the French team with Didiert Dinart and Guillaume Gille, there is no participant of the 2017 IHF Men’s World Championship with more silverware than the players on the Croatian bench. Funnily enough, it is not head coach, Zeljko Babic, but his assistant Petar Metlicic, goalkeeper coach Venio Losert (1996 and 2004 Olympic gold) and sports director Ivano Balic (2004 Olympic gold, 2003 WCh gold and two-time IHF World Handball Player of the World), who all bring massive experience to the table.
In this interview, three-time Champions League winner, 2004 Olympic champion, 2003 World Championship winner and 2005, 2009 WCh and 2010 EURO silver medallist, Metlicic, explains, how this coaching team works and how the Croats hope to promote their EURO 2018 with a top result at France. Since Babic was announced new Croatian national team coach in autumn 2015, Metlicic has been his assistant.
Croatia have won their first two matches in Rouen against Saudi Arabia and Hungary. What is your impression so far?
Petar Metlicic: “There is always a certain pressure on every team at the start of a tournament. We were a little bit shaky in the first match against the Saudis. In such matches, you never know, what to expect. To beat Hungary the day after was very important for the rest of the tournament. Now we know that we have it in our hands to fight for the first and second position in our group. We had prepared well for the clash with the Hungarians. It was as tough as expected, but in the end, our goalkeeper Filip Ivic paved the way to this crucial win.”
So you expect the last match in Rouen against Germany to decide Group C?
Petar Metlicic: “Of course, we have respect for Belarus and Chile, our next opponents, and we have to be aware when you see all those surprises which occurred already here. But both Germany and ourselves beat Hungary, we are quite sure that this is the do-or-die duel for the top position. To finish on top could mean that you face easier opponents in the knockout stage, but I always say: you never know what’s on the other side.”
In exactly one year, Croatia will host the next European Championship. How important is a good result in France for the promotion of the event?
Petar Metlicic: “We have built up a new, young team with eight players younger than 23. And we have exactly one goal: to win the gold medal at the EURO. Our generation was World and Olympic champions, but we never managed to become European champions. In 2004, 2008 and 2010 we were close, but never won gold – we simply lacked the luck. This is the big objective for 2018. But of course, we want to fight for the medals here in France – to promote the EURO and to get our team some more experience.”
You ended your active career in 2013 after a final season with Montpellier. Was it hard for you to switch from player to coach?
Petar Metlicic: “It is a completely different world. As a player, you get your tactics, try to play them and after the match you go to your room to try to recover. As a coach, you are responsible for 16 players, have to prepare them, have to implement the tactics and have to react on the bench. So the pressure is not only different, but bigger. It’s a different type of stress.”
But you are not alone on the Croatian bench and in the coaching staff. You have assistances like your former teammates Ivano Balic and Venjo Losert. How do you share the workload among those former world class players?
Petar Metlicic: “Head coach Zeljko Babic is the boss, but we all function as a team. We are a good team, we work well together. Ivano Balic is head of all the national teams, but even supports us during the matches from the stands and it’s a great help for the young players, just as Venjo is for the goalkeepers.”
Croatia play their next Group C tie against Belarus tonight (16 January) at 20:45 CET in the Kindarena, Rouen.