Serbia bid farewell to five big names
On Wednesday night Serbia reached their desired goal and qualified for the 2023 IHF Women's World Championship after two comfortable wins over Türkiye.
While the team is celebrating a spot at another big handball tournament, five players left the hall in Belgrade, the popular ''Banjica'', with tears in their eyes after playing their last-ever match in the national jersey.
After months of speculation, the last dance for Kristina Liscevic, Jovana Stoiljkovic, Jelena Lavko, Kristina Graovac and Tamara Radojevic was confirmed ahead of the World Championship qualifiers. What better way to say goodbye to the national team than in front of your fans, on the court you played so many times, where you started your handball journey and lived through beautiful moments in your career?
Sisters Kristina Graovac and Tamara Radojevic are not only saying goodbye to the national team but they will also retire from handball at the end of the 2022/23 season. The goalkeeper and centre back started their handball journey in Belgrade after moving from their hometown Pirot. Their path led them through Radnicki Beograd, Cepelin Beograd, Jagodina and Ardeşen GSK.
The duo separated when Tamara left Türkiye to join Krim Mercator Ljubljana, while Kristina spent additional years at Muratpasa Belediyesi before joining TSV Bayer Leverkusen. The sisters have united again for the 2022/23 season in Kisvárda where they will say a final goodbye to handball.
“In a way it was hard but at the same time a beautiful feeling. I started playing handball here and to end my national team career in this atmosphere, with the girls and with a win is something special. I would like to thank to everyone who came to support us and I was very happy to see many young girls in the stands. I would like to say to them to fight and never give up,” said Graovac after her final game in the Serbian jersey.
Graovac sealed her 41st official game with eight saves at a 32 per cent save efficiency. The goalkeeper made her national team debut in 2007 and was part of the Serbian team at the 2021 IHF Women's World Championship in Spain.
Radojevic made her national debut in 2013 and since then recorded 84 caps. Four goals against Türkiye brought her tally to 196. Along the way, she represented Serbia at three World Championships and two EHF EUROs.
“I grew up with the national team, both as a person and a player; from younger age categories to the senior national team. It was very hard for me at the beginning of the match, I think it was obvious as I could not hold back my emotions. After almost 10 years, it is time to say goodbye. This farewell match against Türkiye is one of the most beautiful moments in my career but also one of the toughest. To play in front of my family, friends and everyone who came to support us,” said Radojevic with teary eyes, full of emotions.
Farewell to the silver medallists
2023 marked the 10-year anniversary of a historic silver medal at the 2013 IHF Women's World Championship in Serbia. The Serbian national team were second in group B, then eliminated South Korea, Norway and Poland to be stopped by Brazil in the finals. They have never since repeated that success.
The back court trio of Kristina Liscevic, Jovana Stoiljkovic and Jelena Lavko were part of that enormous success and by helping their team to qualify for the 2023 World Championship, they closed the circle.
Always positive Liscevic came a long way from her hometown Somobor where she started playing handball at the age of 14. From Sombor, via Crvea Zvezda, Metalurg, Metz, Váci, Astrahanochka, Krasnodar, Kisvárda, Esbjerg, SCM Râmnicu Vâlcea and lastly HC Dunărea Brăila, she made her mark and became one of the most recognisable faces of Serbian handball.
The 33-year-old centre-back has played in four EHF EUROs (2012, 2014, 2016 and 2020), as well as four World Championships (2013, 2015, 2019 and 2021). When you add 129 caps and 304 goals, that speaks for itself.
“I would like to express my gratitude to all people who came to support us at our last game and important qualification match. It was beautiful and they made us proud and grateful o play for the national team,” said the singer at heart, Liscevic.
Jovana Stoiljkovic could not hold back her emotions after the game and through the rollercoaster of tears and smiles said goodbye to her favourite jersey.
“It is a special feeling to sing the anthem in front of a packed Banjica. It was the same feeling when I sang it for the first time. As I was singing it, I had a flashback of my whole career. I hope that new generations, new girls will have this opportunity - to win medals and enjoy the support and play with such a great team," she said.
The experienced left back played at home in Napredak Krusevac, Nis and Zajecar before moving to France in 2012; since then, Le Havre, Nantes, Brest Bretagne and since 2019 Chambray Touraine have been her home.
From fourth place at the EHF EURO 2012 and a silver medal at the 2013 World Championship to a total of five EHF EUROs and the same number of World Championships, Stoiljkovic became a true role model on and off the court. Her national team time ended with 131 caps and 308 goals scored.
Right back Jelena Lavko was part of nine big handball tournaments - five European Championships and four World Championships. Playing a part in the world silver medal performance and winning the Cup Winners' Cup at FTC, Lavko's experience was felt throughout the years.
She started in Kikinda and played for Zajecar, FTC, Buducnost, Podravka, Craiova, Alba Fehérvár, Érd and since 2020, CS Minaur Baia Mare. Her club career will continue, but with 132 appearances and 315 goals scored, her time with the national team came to an end.
“I tried to be calm as we cried numerous times since we came back from the first game in Türkiye but the emotions are too strong. This is something you never forget. Alongside the silver medal in 2013, this is one of the most beautiful moments in my career, to have such support at your final game. However, to think I will never play again here it's hard. But my heart is full and I would like to say to young generations - be persistent and hard work will be paid off,” concluded the emotional Lavko.