30 December 2016
Each week, we offer you a full portrait of one of the players that will be in the spotlights during the World Championships 2017, with the help from one of the four ambassadors of the competition. This week, Domagoj Duvnjak as seen by Bruno Martini.
Heir of the glorious Croatian handball tradition, Domagoj Duvnjak succeeded Ivano Balic as the playmaker of the national team, and is one of the best players in the world for many years. He was chosen as the best handball player of the year in 2013, after winning the Champions League with Hamburg. He arrived in North Germany in 2009, at 21, coming from Zagreb, and he’s still playing in the same region, as he left Hamburg to join Kiel in 2014. Croatian international since 2008, Duvnjak really broke through during 2009 World Championship at home, even though Croatia lost in the final to France. Since then, he has become an essential leader of the Croatian team on both ends of the court, but especially on offense, with some impressive stats. He was the leader in assists in the last two international tournaments (46 in 8 games at Euro 2016, 26 in 6 games at the Olympics in Rio). Although Croatia often played the last rounds in the last decade’s competitions, Duvnjak has not won a trophy with his national team yet. Aged 28, he therefore heads to 2017 World Championship with a lot of appetite, and with the ambition to lead Croatia to its second world title, after 2003.
Bruno Martini about Domagoj Duvnjak
“He’s an extraordinary player, he’s what the Croatian tradition can do best. He’s got a pure talent, but also a very complete technique. He has a lot of presence and charisma : when he is on the field, you see him. He’s been here for several years, he broke through during the 2009 World Championship, and since then, he has confirmed that he is an unbelievable player. There were creative center backs from the Balkan country before him, like Ivano Balic, but Duvnjak adds a physical element to this creativity. He combines a little bit of everything : the skills and expertise of the ex-Yugoslavia handball, a huge physical presence in offense and in defense, and some versatility. He’s a very smart player, able to detect and to analyse the game’s circumstances, and he knows exactly what buttons to push to unsettle the opposing team. That’s one of his trademarks, which allows him to always use his creativity wisely. I would say that his weakness is maybe his lack of consistency. He can fail an entire game, or disappear during the match, and then appear again. There is a small point on his ability to keep a high level of performance on a long period, but it remains a very relative weakness. He really is the Croatian team’s driving force : if he plays well, Croatia will play well too. But if he’s having a bad day, it will be much more complicated for his teammates.”
Domagoj Duvnjak and the 2017 World Championship
“This World Championship in France is another big competition for me. It is really important because I want to try to give my best with my team and to achieve something in the land of handball. France is really famous with their players and their national team and it would be really nice to win something there. France is a big name in handball. They will be playing in front of their fans which have strong base and share special love for handball. Our first task is to come to France well prepared and without any injuries. When it comes to result, we are aiming high, and if we want to achieve that, we will need to have a high number of good games and lot of concentration. We have respect for every opponent. World Championship is not an easy competition. Every victory is important and in our group we have Germany and Hungary, teams that deserve high respect. Number of points will decide who goes to the next round therefore every match is really important. The games against Saudi Arabia, Belarus and Chile will also have great significance.”
The phenomenal play
Excellent shooter, Domagoj Duvnjak also is a brilliant playmaker. His vision and the precision of his right arm allow him to deliver many great passes to his teammates, sometimes in a spectacular way. Here’s a telling example, with an incredible acrobatic assist to Fredrik Petersen, during the 2013 Champions League final, won by Hamburg against Barcelona.
At 0’08” :