PPD Zagreb and Horvat ready for familiar opponents
The rivalry between HC PPD Zagreb and HC Vardar goes way back in history. Over the last 17 years, the Croatian and Macedonian champions faced each other 32 times in official matches – 10 of those in the EHF Champions League. The first clash was in the 2002/2003 season, when Zagreb won 28:25 in Skopje in the EHF Champions League Group D clash.
That match was a memorable one for a particular individual – a young, talented right wing from Zagreb’s academy: Zlatko Horvat.
Today, his name is well-known in the handball world. He is the current captain of HC PPD Zagreb, has devoted his entire career to the ‘Lions’ and, along that road, also won many medals with Croatia national team at the Olympics, World and European championships.
“Looking back on the 2002/03 season, I remember that match, but I have to be honest that I don’t remember scoring. Wow, thank you for reminding me about that and the start of my path in Champions League and professional handball,” says Horvat. “What I recall from that period is that we won against Vardar on both occasions. Those points opened the door to the quarter-finals for us.”
A lot of matches have been played between these two clubs, especially since the launch of the SEHA – Gazprom League, in which both teams have participated since the first season in 2011/12. Knowing your opponent can be an advantage but also some kind of drawback, and Horvat knows that well.
“Many of us are friends with Vardar’s players, but on the court it’s different. We have a lot of respect for them. Our two clubs are long-time rivals and both sides know all the advantages and weaknesses of the opponent team well,” says Horvat. “It will be interesting to see if we manage to surprise them with something.”
“Playing the Last 16 is a reward for us”
The first leg of the Last 16 between Zagreb and Vardar throws off on Saturday at 20:30, live on ehfTV.com. Zagreb coach Branko Tamse’s players will have to step up the pace and find a solution for Vardar’s deeper bench if they want to surprise the 2016/17 Champions League winners. The Match of the Week in Zagreb is certain to bring us an exciting 60 minutes, as both teams have one victory on their side from their mutual clashes in the regular part of the SEHA League season.
“I expect a good fight. We need to show what we’re made of and put in our maximum in both games, especially in that first one on the home court,” says Horvat. “After the season we had so far, playing the Last 16 is a reward for us. We didn’t start well, and we had to fight for our place in the top 16 teams. All the effort was worth it.”
Zagreb had a tough start to the season and not everything looked as they have planned. A partly rejuvenated team entered the season, losing to Nexe in the SEHA League and not showing their top performance in the Champions League.
As their campaign in the group phase progressed, the Croatian team played better and collected some important wins. After changing coach, with Tamse replacing Lino Cervar, Zagreb showed they will never surrender.
Where there is a will, there is a way – Horvat has been proving that for the past 17 years in the top competition.Author: Danijela Lemaic / cg