Slavic: “We will show our fighting spirit”
HC PPD Zagreb entered the 2021/22 season with new, strong names in the squad, aiming for the knockout stage of EHF Champions League. Heading into the final round of group A, that is still a possibility if they overcome Aalborg on Wednesday night and Elverum drop at least a point against Vardar 1961.
After a disappointing two seasons, the Lions turned the page and set new goals. With the clear vision of coach Ivica Obrvan, new players such as three-time champion Ivan Cupic, Zeljko Musa and Jakov Gojun, PPD Zagreb were set to erase season 2020/2021 when they finished bottom of the group without a single point. The new strategy included joining the Croatian league from the start, after only playing the play-offs for the past ten years and giving an opportunity to talented players.
Zagreb also introduced a new goalkeeping trio and one of them is Dino Slavic. Slavic started his career in his hometown Rijeka and in 2013 had his first European minutes with Zamet. The 29-year-old came back to Croatia from Ademar Leon, where he was among the best goalkeepers in the ASOBAL league and enjoyed his first taste of the EHF Champions League.
Despite set goals of progressing, Zagreb had another tough start of the season losing the first two matches by more than eight goals. However, with time, everything set into its place and recent results prove that.
“We had a tough start as we needed time to get to know each other. For me, as a goalkeeper, I needed to get to know the defence in front of me and they needed to understand me,” says Slavic, reflecting on the first couple of matches in group A.
“As we had difficulties adjusting at the start of the season, we lost a few matches by a lot. We just needed one game to turn things around and that was against Meshkov Brest.”
PPD Zagreb ended the ‘dark streak’ of 17 losses with a draw against Elverum, followed by another draw and a win against Meshkov Brest.
“That match showed and proved to us we can play against stronger opponents and the best teams. Since then, we either won or, unfortunately, lost just by one goal, like against Vardar, Montpellier and Kiel. From that moment in round 8, we are on a good streak and with a good number of points.”
The final round presents the ultimate challenge for PPD Zagreb. They travel to Aalborg with a chance of securing a Last 16 spot. Even if they take points from the all-or-nothing game, they still need Elverum to drop at least a point against Vardar.
“We have one of the hardest matches in front of us. We are playing against Aalborg, who were at the EHF FINAL4 last season, that says enough about them. However, we will give our best to win. It is a downside we do not play at home but we will show our fighting spirit in Denmark.”
PPD Zagreb started this season with a match against Aalborg. In Zagreb, the Danish team won 34:24. It was a cold shower for the Lions, however, Slavic concludes they have learnt a lot from that match and the team has made progress since.
“In comparison to that first game, our advantage should be the strong defence which, sort of, became our trademark. On the other hand, Aalborg play typical Scandinavian handball. Fast play, with a focus on transition and fast breaks. We have to make sure they do not score easily and if we manage all that, we can put up a good fight,” says Slavic.
With 354 goals conceded in 14 matches, PPD Zagreb have the third-best defensive record with only Vardar and Barca in front of them. Defence is a key feature of Obrvan’s team and Dino Slavic is an important part of that. As a result, PPD Zagreb announced Slavic will stay in Croatia’s capital one more season.
“As I said, defence is one of our strongest weapons, especially in tough matches. I signed a one-year contract, but I prolonged it for another year to mutual satisfaction. When I first joined PPD Zagreb, I was supposed to be the second goalkeeper, but I earned trust to start matches and I am very satisfied in Zagreb.”
The team that started their 28th season in Europe’s top-flight against Aalborg, might finish it against the same opponent. Even if they do not progress further, their current seventh place with eight points so far is a step forward for PPD Zagreb.
“We want to be in the play-offs, even though we do not depend only on ourselves. Our results from the last couple of rounds speak for themselves and are keeping our hope alive,” concludes Slavic.