Croatia table tennis players Anđela Mužinić and Helena Dretar Karić won a spot in the semifinals of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and thus secured at least the bronze medal in the team competition, reports HRT.
In the quarterfinals, Croatia beat Turkey 2-0 and thus secured the bronze at the Paralympic Games after winning silver in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. It will be the second medal for Croatia in Tokyo after Velimir Šandor’s silver in the discus throw.
In the first match, Anđela and Helena beat Hatice Duman and Nergiz Altintas 3-1 (9-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-9) in the doubles, and then Mužinić beat Duman 3-0 (11). -7, 13-11, 13-11) so the third meeting was unnecessary.
“It’s easier to breathe. After the defeat in the singles, we had to get up, and I think we managed. I felt great, I was full of security, but there was huge pressure when we came to the table. In the end, we managed to register a victory, and usually, a victory in pairs is crucial,” said Dretar Karić, adding: “Now we can get into a real “fight.”
“We were tight, they took the lead at 7-1, but we needed to remain calm. Unfortunately, we lost the first set, but we managed to come back,” added Mužinić.
Croatia confirmed its spot in the semifinals in the second match, in which the 29-year-old table tennis player celebrated with a convincing 3-0.
“I played many times against Duman, once I was awarded world bronze. She was always my tough rival. Even today, it was difficult, and only now after the match, I feel relief.”
Dretar Karić and Anđela Mužinić won silver in Rio, and it was the first Croatia team medal in the history of the Paralympic Games. A medal was also expected from them in Tokyo.
“Maybe that’s why we were under pressure. However, we knew that this victory carries a medal, and I am sure that it won’t be like that tomorrow,” said Dretar Karić.
They will play against South Korea in the semifinal tomorrow, and it will be a replay from Rio when Croatia celebrated. Interestingly, Croatia won then and never again against South Korea.
“They were the favorites then, and I think they will be tomorrow as well, but we have nothing to lose,” said the 42-year-old from Varaždin, while Mužinić added: “We promise to fight, and we will play without surrender.”
In addition to silver in Rio, Mužinić and Dretar Karić also won silver (2017) and bronze (2014) at the World Championships and four golds (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019) and bronze (2011) at the European Team Championships.
Coach Mirela Šikoronja Ivančin emphasized that the most important thing was to “bring them back to life” after being eliminated in the individual competition, especially for Anđela, who had bigger goals than the quarterfinals.
“It was terribly difficult to play the match you have to win. We are defending the silver medal from Rio, we know we are good, but you have to confirm that,” said Šikoronja Ivančin.
“I knew it would be a difficult match, there are no easy rivals here, but the girls responded well to the challenges, and both are in shape, and I am overjoyed that they secured a medal.”
She pointed out that the biggest problem is that there have been no matches for more than a year.
“We haven’t had a single official match for a year and a half, and then came the Paralympic Games, which in themselves bring pressure.
Korea is a team we only beat in Rio. But the girls are in a great position now, they have taken the pressure off their backs, and now they can bravely enter the match. They have quality, and I believe in them endlessly.”
She also regrets that there are no spectators in the stands.
“This is a beautiful hall, and it is a real pity that there are no spectators because the stands would be full,” concluded Šikoronja Ivančin.
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