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Date: 12/21/2016

Coach: Zeljko Babic


Key Players: Domagoj Duvnjak (Centre Back), Manuel Strlek (Left Wing), Marko Kopljar (Right Back), Zlatko Horvat (Right Wing), Ivan Stevanovic (Goalkeeper)


Qualification information: Third at EHF EURO 2016


History in Tournament: 1954-1993: DNP*, 1995: 2nd, 1997: 13th, 1999: 10th, 2001: 9th, 2003: 1st, 2005: 2nd, 2007: 5th, 2009: 2nd, 2011: 5th, 2013: 3rd, 2015: 6th

*Croatia’s results as part of former Yugoslavia are officially inherited by Serbia




Croatia have been one of the most successful squads and consistently top-ranked teams in men’s handball over the last 25 years. In their debut appearance at the IHF Men’s World Championship in 1995 the team won the silver medal, and have since gone on to claim second twice more (2005, 2009), bronze once (2013) and even raise the coveted trophy as champions in 2003.


Of five Olympic participations Croatia have won two gold medals (1996, 2004) and one bronze (2012), and on a continental level they tally three bronze (1994, 2012, 2016) and two silver (2008, 2010). Even outside the medal count Croatia’s performances have been consistently impressive, as the team have not ranked lower than the top six at any major international competition – the Olympic Games, World Championship or EHF EURO – since 2002.


Croatia are therefore always considered one of the biggest threats on court at any competition, but have been largely disappointed with their most recent campaigns, which include a sixth-place finish behind Denmark at Qatar 2015 and fifth at Rio 2016 after a narrow defeat in the quarter-final at the hands of Poland. The stand-out result on their recent record is the bronze medal won in sensational fashion at the EHF EURO 2016, when Croatia were all but out of the running for a semi-final berth with their only opportunity to proceed an 11-goal win against the host nation Poland.


Croatia shocked the handball world when they defeated Poland by a staggering 14 goals (37:23), wasting no effort in securing their semi-final place, where they lost to Spain but went on to win the bronze medal against Norway. Left wing Manuel Strlek was named as the All-Star left wing for the tournament, and goalkeeper Ivan Stevanovic was the sixth best keeper with an average save rate of 34% for the championship.


The team therefore travelled to Rio de Janeiro with high hopes for the Olympic Games, and when they finished as the top-ranked team in their preliminary group ahead of the eventual silver medallists France, gold medallists Denmark and 2015 World Championship runners-up Qatar their prospects looked bright. It was not to be however, and Croatia bowed out of the running for the title in the quarter-final stage against Poland, who went on to contest the bronze medal.  


Nevertheless, Croatia’s recent results and experience in medal matches show they are one of the main contenders for at least a top-three final ranking, and coach Zeljko Babic expects his team to make it to the fight for the France 2017 medals.


Babic can count on a deep team full of VELUX EHF Champions League stars, with almost every position boasting more than one world-class athlete including 2013 World Handball Player of the Year Domagoj Duvnjak, Zlatko Horvat, Manuel Strlek, Marko Kopljar and Luka Stepancic. Following the fifth-place finish at Rio 2016 there have been some changes however, with coach Babic inviting Alen Blazevic from MOL Pick Szeged and goalkeeper Mate Sunjic from French Creteil into the squad.


Line player Marino Maric is returning to the national team after recovering from a metatarsal bone injury and is impatiently waiting for the start of France 2017, while Domagoj Palovic is ruled out with an injury that keeps him side lined through to the end of 2016.

“We want to play for a medal and no matter which players are going to be on a squad list for France, we are always aiming high,” says Manuel Strlek. “It is not going to be easy. Many teams are playing good handball. The quality of handball has spread. More and more teams are close to the top level and we have to play every match with full strength if we want to win. We have a tough group in France but we will not give up. We will give 110% in every match, but of course we will not underestimate anyone.”


Joining the team on the side line is former Croatia goalkeeper Venio Losert, who replaces Valter Matosevic as goalkeeper coach as the team prepare for their Group C campaign in Rouen.


“Objectively the strongest opponent in the group is Germany. They are very good team and after winning EHF EURO title they have strong motivation to continue on this successful path,” says Babic.


“Hungary and Belarus are also serious opponents and it is not going to be easy, but of course we can’t underestimate anyone in the group. Every match is a special story and in every match you have to be 100% concentrated to be able to win. We will give our best in France and we will not make it easy for anyone.”


Croatia will open France 2017 against Saudi Arabia before meeting Hungary, Belarus, Chile and EHF EURO 2016 champions and Rio 2016 bronze medallists Germany. 


Group at France 2017:
Group C: Germany, Croatia, Belarus, Hungary, Chile, Saudi Arabia


Games at France 2017:

All times local


Friday 13 January: CRO vs KSA 20:45

Saturday 14 January: HUN vs CRO 20:45

Monday 16 January: CRO vs BLR 20:45

Wednesday 18 January: CRO vs CHI 20:45

Friday 20 January: GER vs CRO 17:45



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