Exactly 40 years ago in Munich, the national team of then Yugoslavia became the first Olympic title holder in volleyball. Is there some symbolic meaning in the fact that the Serbian selection will appear for the first time with that name in London? In handball, the saying was that the European Championship is stronger than the Olympic tournament, and Serbia is the current European vice champion.
The draws were not too favorable on us. We are in the same group with European champions – Denmark, bronze holders – Croatia and the Spanish selection, which took the fourth place at the last European Championship in Belgrade. There are also the tough teams of Hungary and South Korea, which is probably the best Asian selection. In order to qualify for the quarter-final, one of the first four places in the group needs to be taken. It somehow seems that in that regard, first two matches, against Spain and Croatia, might be decisive.
The head coach of the national selection Veselin Vukovic agrees that the drawing of lots was tough on Serbia, and adds that the schedule is also unfavorable, because in the first three days our selection will play against three semi-finalists from the European Championship in Belgrade. After that, the matches with South Korea and Hungary will be played in the morning, i.e. at the time that, according to Vukovic, is absolutely unsuitable for the elite athletic performance.
“We have not taken part in the Olympics for 12 years, so we must not be burdened with the role of favorites. The Hungarians have probably gained a lot by having their best player Nagy back. For us, Koreans are totally unknown. I have to repeat what I have already said before – qualifying for the quarter-final would mean big success, but in any case we will not surrender and will try our best to battle for one of the medals”.
Prior to the European Championship in Belgrade some were looking down on our selection. Now, as the vice champions, we will be under special attention. Everybody will be highly motivated against us, and Vukovic considers it as price for the glory. To him, it is important that nobody in our group has said the competition was light, which means everybody has respect for Serbia, too. In his words, the fitness level is tapered for the time around August 5 and 6, i.e. prior to the quarter-final matches.
“Most importantly, the guys are very motivated, they are working well and we hope to be able and do our best in each game, so we will see how far it will take us. The problem is that the other group is much easier, so whoever comes to the quarter-final will be fresher than us”, says handball selection head coach Veselin Vukovic.
He also adds that so far there have not been any major problems with injuries, only what is normal for the training process, especially in contact sports, such as volleyball. “I hope the injuries will miss us and that we will go to London in our strongest shape, without health issues arranging the team”, Vukovic concluded in an interview for the International Radio Serbia.