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Jovanka Radicevic, player of the Montenegrin national team. Picture: Pillaud

Group C: Montenegro - The young and wild of Montenegro

The most popular and successful handball player from Montenegro ended her career two years ago. She is a legend in her homeland and most European handball fans know her. We are talking about Bojana Popovic. She won the European Champions League six times (with Slagelse DT, Viborg HK und ŽRK Budućnost Podgorica) and silver at the Olympic Games in Montenegro in 2012.

She doesn’t play at the World Championship in Germany but is nevertheless involved. “I’m training the U17 in Podgorica and I’m co-trainer of the national team which means I spend a lot of time in the sports hall talking”, she laughes hoarsely. The majority of the national team plays in the capital city Podgorica. “Some players play international. But the starting seven from Budućnost is also the starting seven in the national team. Our head coach Dragan Adžić coaches both teams. The Champions League is practically our preparation for the World Championship. Then again the World Championship is our preparation for the preliminary round in the Champions League”, explains the 38-year-old.

Reaching the round of sixteen is the main goal. “We have a lot of young players between 19 and 21. They need to play as many matches as possible at the World Championship to learn winning as well as loosing and to experience such an event”, explains Popovic the strategy which is aimed at the Olympic Games 2020. “We need to be patient. After a mixed season in the Champions League last year we made a radical change and started from zero. We now want to build up a young team which is able to keep up in the Champions League but also to compete for titles”, so the former world class handball player.

The tactic for the young team is clear: “The simplest approach is to teach young players how to defend. We want to play a good, hard defence.  Therefore, it’s our first priority to improve it. Furthermore, we want to play with a lot of speed. Fastbreak goals are the easiest goals. But returning to the defence is important as well to prevent goals against us. If we succeed to play a solid defence and if we are fast when returning to it, we are allowed to make a few mistakes in the offense. This will happen with a lot of young players and that’s okay”, says Popovic.

At the moment she is learning a lot next to the many hours in the sports hall. She wants to absolve a trainer qualification. “As of 2021 you need a qualification yourself to coach. It’s not enough to have somebody with a qualification by your side. But learning is fun, even if I’m a bit more tired. Maybe I’m involved in the national team in future”, smiles the mother of two.

Montenegro doesn’t have a real star in their team. But 27-year-old Milena Raičević (née Knecevic), who won the silver medal at the Olympic Games together with Popovic, will have to accept responsibility to lead the young and wild to victory.