The silver medallists of the EHF EURO 2012 have been on a winding path ever since, following failed reconstruction attempts and mixed success under four coaches in as many years.
The EHF EURO 2018 qualification was the glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel for the new-look Serbia.
Anticipating their fifth consecutive EHF EURO with a team, rather than a group of individuals, Serbia are going one step at a time to prove their worth on the big stage.
Regardless of their role and playing time, all players are equally important at the EHF EURO. The coach, Jovica Cvetkovic, showed high awareness of the fact with his most recent selection.
With a fairly clean bill of health in a rebuilt, rejuvenated, and arguably strengthened roster, this new Serbian team have a lot to offer. This is one spirited, cohesive bunch with no significant shortcomings.
An otherwise strong backcourt has been reinforced; most notably, with the arrival of former Croatian national team member Stefan Vujic. The 26-year-old centre back is a versatile team player, who will bring viable options in all phases of the game.
Serbia’s game plan is also evolving. The focus is on a fast-paced, multi-dimensional, modern game with plenty of variety. The roster has been selected based on that concept, and, whilst being an arduous path, the insightful approach has granted Serbia the opportunity to grow as a whole.
The biggest improvement has been seen on the offensive end. The backcourt is now showing a promising amount of consistency, as noted in the test matches. Meanwhile, the technical errors and turnovers due to the higher pace have been reduced.
The added variety in offence will bring the best out of Petar Nenadic, who is arguably the team’s biggest attacking asset.
A well though-out selection will allow Serbia to line up in a variety of ways. However, the experience of Zarko Sesum and Petar Nenadic is expected to lead the way, with coach Cvetkovic not favouring much rotation between attack and defence.
The wings are brimming with efficiency, form and confidence. But, aside from Dobrivoje Markovic and Darko Djukic, other players do not posses much EHF EURO experience.
With the line player position lacking offensive depth, the in-form line player Rastko Stojkovic is expected to boss the six-metre line with authority. The 36-year-old Stojkovic will relish the responsibility, being the most experienced player in the team with over a decade of national team service.
With the second worst record of 173 goals conceded in the EHF EURO 2018 qualification, the Serbian defence will require a lot of attention.
As much as Cvetkovic generally favours less rotation, the bench contribution will be a prominent factor on the defensive end, especially as the championship progresses.
Defensive specialists Ilija Abutovic and Bojan Beljanski are expected to form the solid centre block at the heart of the combined 6-0, which will predominately be played with some variation.
Meanwhile, a smoother transition between the phases of the game will have to be established.
This was evidently high on Cvetkovic’s list of priorities, with the vast majority of backcourt players selected, versatile enough to contribute in all phases of the game.
Time does not work in favour of Jovica Cvetkovic’s mission with Serbia. However, he is definitely on the right track as has been evident in their cohesion and performance during the qualification.
After a period of trial and error, the playing system and core of the team seem to have been established. However, a learning curve is still present for both Cvetkovic and his players in finding the right balance of utility and skill in this young setup.
The style of play Cvetkovic will enforce is modern, swift and attack-minded. However, it might take some time until the team is able to execute his vision to full extent. In the meantime, everyone will have to adapt and commit to the joint cause.
The team come before any individual. Any star status will have to be earned and maintained as part of a team effort on the court.
The main task during the weeks prior to their EHF EURO opening, against the hosts Croatia, will be to increase consistency and successful implementation of given tasks throughout the team.
Serbia come to Croatia free of any expectations, with players’ sole responsibility to prove worthy of their crest and shirt.
With the right attitude, a clean bill of health and maybe a little bit of luck, the elusive main round berth can become a reality for Serbia. In that regard, a lot can depend on the performance in the opening match, and confidence they exert from it.
However, it would also mean getting a positive result against at least one of their Group A rivals – Croatia, Sweden or Iceland.
Looking at the bigger picture, regardless of their EHF EURO 2018 result, Serbia have a lot more to gain from this competition. This young group of players is looking at the chance to grow and develop into a team that can achieve consistently good results over a period of years.
The 28 players selected by Serbia for the Men’s EHF EURO 2018:
Goalkeepers: Strahinja MIlic (Vardar), Tibor Ivaisevic (Skjern), Vladimir Cupara (Ademar Leon), Dejan Milosavljev (Partizan)
Backcourt players: Zarko Sesum (Göppingen), Stefan Vujic (Steaua), Petar Nenadic (Berlin), Petar Djordjic (Meshkov), Momir Rnic (Löwen), Stefan Ciric (Obilic), Nikola Crnoglavac (Constanta), Milan Jovanovic (Vojvodina), Nemanja Zelenovic (Magdeburg), Aleksandar Stanojevic (Goztepe), Ilija Abutovic (Vardar), Drasko Nenadic (Berlin), Darko Stevanovic (Partizan), Marko Vujin (Kiel), Nemanja Obradovic (Wisla)
Wing players: Darko Djukic (Kielce) Bogdan Radivojevic (Löwen), Dobrivoje Markovic (Zagreb), Nemanja Ilic (Tolouse), Vanja Ilic (Metalurg), Vukasin Vorkapic (Metaloplastika)
Line players: Rastko Stojkovic (Meshkov Brest), Mijajlo Marsenic (Vardar), Bojan Beljanski (Bregenz)