22/11/2020

Can Serbia bounce back?

COUNTDOWN #11: Eight years ago, Serbia hosted the EHF EURO and finished fourth. It will be tough to repeat that performance, but they look primed to be a dark horse in 2020

© Image used from Slovak Handball Federation

On a good day, Serbia can exert pressure on almost any team in Europe not only with their experience and depth but also with the superb talent at their disposal.

Yet, unable to build upon blocks that they had built, Serbia have missed their chances in recent tournaments.

However, all their eyes are set on a good performance at the EHF EURO 2020, with an in-form Andrea Lekic and other key players hungry to bounce back after some disappointing outings in previous years.

Main facts

  • all of Serbia’s listed players for the EHF EURO 2020 play in domestic championships outside Serbia 
  • this will be the second European championship for coach Ljubomir Obradovic, who was appointed in 2017
  • Serbia finished fourth when they hosted the tournament eight years ago, their best-ever EHF EURO finish
  • nine players ply their trade for teams competing in the DELO EHF Champions League
  • with two wins in the EHF EURO 2020, Serbia will reach the 10-win milestone in EHF EURO history

Most important question: Can Serbia emulate their 2012 performance?

Eight years ago, when Serbia hosted the EHF EURO, it was a matter of national pride. Serbia secured their best-ever EHF EURO finish (fourth) but lost a thrilling bronze medal game against Hungary 41:38 after extra time. Since then, it has been downhill for the Serbian side, which – despite progressing to the main round in the last two European championships – has failed to finish higher than ninth place.

Yet this looks like a good chance for Serbia to return to their best. Despite being drawn in a tough group, which also features Netherlands, Hungary and Croatia, Serbia's side has the experience and poise needed to overcome any challenge. All of the players selected by coach Ljubomir Obradovic are plying their trade in domestic championships outside Serbia. Seven of them come from the Hungarian first division, while six others play in the Romanian league.

Moreover, nine players in Serbia's squad have consistent DELO EHF Champions League appearances this season, with Andrea Lekic orchestrating Buducnost’s game, Jelena Trifunovic being a stalwart in SCM Ramnicu Valcea’s defence, while Jovana Risovic has quietly become one of the top goalkeepers in the competition for RK Krim Mercator.

Experience is key in such a tournament, and with EHF EURO 2018 top scorer Katarina Krpez-Slezák back in business after a one-year absence due to giving birth, Serbia should prove a tough nut for any team to crack in December.

Under the spotlight: Andrea Lekic

In 2020, the 33-year-old centre back will play her seventh EHF EURO, but Lekic has aged like fine wine and her handball nous is untouched. The Buducnost playmaker is still the mastermind who orchestrates the attack. Serbia will need more from her, though, than at the previous EHF EURO in France, where she scored only 16 goals and provided 16 assists.

However, having already scored 41 goals for Buducnost in the DELO EHF Champions League this season, frequently showing flashes of brilliance, the Serbian ace looks primed for a great tournament.

While Serbia may not reach the peak of 2012, Lekic can be the difference between a successful tournament and disappointment. Only four games shy of 30 matches played at the EHF EURO, she is still Serbia’s top scorer and also has the most assists.

What the numbers say

Serbia have scored 826 goals in their seven EHF EURO participations. 110 of those goals – or 13.3 per cent – have been scored by Andrea Lekic, who will play in her seventh European championship.

Did you know?

Right wing Katarina Krpez-Slezák was the top goal scorer at the EHF EURO 2018, with 50 goals, becoming the first player for Serbia to hit this milestone. Currently at Rostov-Don, Krpez-Slezák came back in 2020 after giving birth and has already scored three goals, all from penalties. A penalty specialist, the 32-year-old converted 23 of her 25 shots from the seven-metre line at the last European championship.

Past achievements

- EHF EURO
Participations (including 2020): 8
Fourth place (1): 2012
Main round (2): 2016, 2018

Other results:

World Championship:
2nd: 2013

Olympic Games:
-

written by Adrian Costeiu / jw