In its 26 years on the world stage, Croatia handball has participated in 35 of 37 major competitions and won 14 medals. The Olympic handball tournament in Tokyo is the second big competition without Croatia, 21 years after Croatia failed to qualify for Sydney.
Hrvoje Horvat took over the team after Lino Červar resigned after the World Championship in Egypt. A month and a half later, with only three days of preparation, Croatia failed to turn the story around and missed out on the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.
Hrvoje Horvat is only now starting his representative career, and only now will he show why he was elected to the top position.
In an interview with Jutarnji List, national team coach Hrvoje Horvat looks into Croatia’s future.
Have you gotten over Montpellier?
“We hurt. Of course, we wanted better, and it is not pleasant, especially not in this way where you have achieved part of the goal and plan. I’m talking about the game against France, something we could have influenced where we didn’t last. It will haunt us all for a while longer. The wounds are deep, the older guys to whom it was supposed to be the crown of their careers found it hard to accept and survive, but we have to move on. It’s a sport. Sport does not allow for long celebrations after victories, nor long mourning after defeats.”
Was three days too little time to change anything from Egypt?
“We knew we didn’t have time to do big things. We tried to speed up the game as much as possible to score an easier goal, and I would say that we succeeded, but with two rotations, which are our biggest problem, we did not succeed much. The game fell hard on us because of that, and it is a matter that we have to solve urgently in the future. We will do that with a new selection of players.”
What is your vision for a new Croatia?
“You should be very careful here because the best should play in the national team. We again have to look long-term and forward. The primary selection has to change; we have to speed up the game. 60 minutes to attack the full zone, where you spend a lot of energy. Without transition, it’s hard to endure an entire game. I want us to be variable in defense, like in the game against France from 5-1 to 6-0. While we had the strength, there were also results. Goalkeepers definitely need to support us more. That is the second biggest problem we have at the moment.
A shot from outside is a cancer of our wounds, and these are the most respected players in handball. Our priority in that sense must be the younger categories; we have to hone our talents and build players. This may not be a key segment of our game in the future, but it is a segment without which high-level handball cannot be played. The crucial problem is the change of defense – attack. My philosophy is that with the defense we try to close the central part of the zone; we have to work the density to avoid being attacked from the middle where the goal is the biggest and widest. We have to ask our goalkeepers to defend us well from wide positions. We have to do that by working with smaller categories all the way to seniors. I see the future. OK, we have potential, but the situation needs to be resolved quickly.”
Does Croatia have the potential to do that?
“The luxury of big clubs are rotations; the players are used to that. Before, the coach had a problem getting the player out because he was angry, and now the players are asking you to put them on the bench to take a break. We have to adapt to that because the preparations are very short. There will therefore be situations where we will have to compromise, but with one good selection, we can significantly reduce that risk.”
Is Croatia’s defense the problem?
“In my opinion, the defense was very good, but when the opponent’s goalkeeper has 14 saves, and ours 5, it significantly changes things. If it was the other way around, we would talk differently. Secondly, I said a bigger problem than the defense was because we changed two players who significantly slowed down our game. We won’t do that anymore.”
How do we resolve the goalkeeper issue?
“We need to draw the line and start solving problems. We will have to be fast first hand, but we also have to count in the long run. In general, already at the next gathering, we will have a picture of how I imagine it from the wings, goalkeepers, attacks because we do not have much time, the Euro is in just six months, and there we want to be good and competitive in a different way.”
Horvat believes there will be a lot of changes.
“All the guys understand the situation. We may have had drama in history, but healthy and open communication solves everything. I don’t mean to brandish a sword. A player plays in the national team because he deserves to play in the club and fulfills what we want.
In the first selection, we will introduce two or three new names by positions. And that will be it; we don’t have time to change constantly. We have to go to the European Championships with a vision of what we can build by 2025 and the World Championship we are hosting. We should know that the World Championship is important to us two years before qualifying for the Paris Olympics in 2024. The backbone must be known already at the Euros. Here, one should consider the problems with form, injuries; this cannot be avoided. But the backbone will be known.
I’m looking forward to the challenge; I’m ready for it. I think I did a good job in Dubrava, Našice, so I will do it on the national team.”
You can read the full interview on Jutarnji List.
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