The pressure was huge on Croatia to start the EHF EURO 2018 with a convincing win against Serbia, and Lino Cervar’s side did just that, steamrolling their rivals 32:22. Croatia hit their stride in the last six minutes of the first half to build a healthy lead that ultimately proved to be unassailable.
"It was definitely important to open the EHF EURO in this way. We prepared for the whole 60 minutes, because we knew we were not going to win the match if we played good only in the first half," said Luka Cindric, Croatia’s playmaker, who scored four goals against Serbia. "A win against Serbia always means a lot, but we did not consider it a special game – it was a game that needed to be won."
As the hosts recorded their biggest win ever over Serbia, experienced right wing Zlatko Horvat underlined the importance of the result.
"Do not cross out Serbia just yet. They will surely put pressure on Sweden and Iceland in the next two games. It was really a tough match, both physically and emotionally," said Horvat.
The 11,000 clamorous fans in Spaladium made it impossible for the Serbia players to coordinate themselves in attack, and were an integral part of Croatia’s win. However, Croatia coach Lino Cervar has urged his players to work hard and continue to do more of the same.
"No place for euphoria"
"There are only two days until the game against Iceland, so there is no place for euphoria in our team. We will take it step by step," said Cervar, whose statements were mirrored by goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic.
"We had an amazing performance from the first until the last minute against Serbia, the opponent that everyone in Croatia was talking about," said Alilovic, who received the best player of the match award. “This game is over and we should forget about it. It was great, the atmosphere was fantastic, but we are already thinking about Sunday’s match against Iceland."
Right back Luka Stepancic stole the show in attack for Croatia. The PSG player scored six goals, including two in the 4:0 partial that decided the game at the end of the first half.
"It was hard to play tonight, because a lot of us did not play in an atmosphere like this before. It was a lot to take in, but it is a big plus for us,” said Stepancic.
Croatia will surely need more of the same from Stepancic, who had a night to remember with 100% shooting accuracy, as captain Domagoj Duvnjak came off with a muscular injury and looks set to miss at least the next games.
"I do not want to predict anything, it was not just an ordinary cramp, but we hope he can recover as soon as possible," said Horvat.