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Kopljar: I hope we have the mental strength to win the medal

INTERVIEW: Croatia captain Marko Kopljar speaks with about their EHF EURO campaign, the bronze medal match, and his new role as leader

Photo: Uros Hocevar

Croatia’s EHF EURO 2016 campaign can most aptly be described as a rollercoaster. After proceeding through the group phase and main round recording both wins and losses, they were responsible for one of the biggest upsets at the tournament.

The 2012 Olympic Games bronze medallists devastated hosts Poland with an enormous 37:23 win, qualifying for the semi-finals with a score line that seemed too miraculous to be possible.

The race for the trophy ended when Croatia lost their semi-final to Spain on Friday, but new captain Marko Kopljar says the team are determined to be successful in their fight for a medal on Sunday. You have had a crazy few days. How is the feeling in the team now?

Marko Kopljar: It went up and down for a couple of days. First, two days ago we were in a situation where we had to wait for other teams to play for us and we had to win by a high margin, and we were so happy after the game against Poland because we made it to the semi-finals.

Of course after the lost match yesterday we are a little bit down. But on the other hand we have a chance to get a medal and also to qualify for France [2017 World Championship], which would really be a good thing for us because three, four games less is really good for the knees and for the joints! Do you think about the World Championship qualification as much as you do the medal on the line tomorrow?

Marko Kopljar: You think about the medal the most, because it would be really nice. I was third a couple of times and I was fourth, so I know the feeling after you lose the game for bronze and it’s a feeling I don’t want to feel tomorrow. Croatia have more experience in ‘big’ matches than Norway do, and you showed against Poland you can play when it counts. Do you think this will be an advantage for your team?

Marko Kopljar: Maybe. Maybe on the other hand they are playing a really good tournament. I cannot say we are totally surprised because we played with them a lot of times. They have a certain quality, they just needed some things to go their way and they did at this championship.

Of course they want a medal and they will be highly motivated, but I think our team has the mental toughness and we showed it – after every loss we bounced back. Croatia lost to Norway in the group phase. What did you learn from that game that will help tomorrow?

Marko Kopljar: Obviously we have to play better defence; definitely we have to play better defence. We learnt some stuff but we also knew them before the game – we just didn’t do them the way we said in the meetings and watching the videos.

I think the thing is we have to run it out, it’s the last game, and we have to give our all like in every game. I just hope we have the mental strength and the health to do it. This is your first major international championship as captain. How does that change the championship for your compared with previous tournaments?

Marko Kopljar: It gives a different feel. Definitely the role of the captain has some really nice things, but you also have some additional responsibilities that I’m not accustomed to, like deciding on a lot of things I never thought about before, taking care of the players a little bit – not as much as the coach of course.

But it’s a big honour to represent your country and to be the captain of your country…it’s something I cannot put into words. What kinds of things do you have to decide?

Marko Kopljar: I mean you have important things, but you also have the less important things like which shirt we have to wear, where do we have to meet, what, where, when and with who…Those are things I never thought about – I was just like ‘OK I have to be there in 15 minutes, I’m going to be there.’

It’s nothing too hard, you just need time to get accustomed.

written by Courtney Gahan / ts