Djordjic determined to deliver for club and country
Petar Djordjic’s has been the name on many people’s lips in handball circles in recent weeks after his amazing performance in the EHF European League Last 16.
The left back’s form makes him a key play for two important tasks on the horizon for both club and country as Serbia face two qualification matches against Slovenia for the IHF Men’s 2023 World Championship while Benfica look forward to the quarter-finals of the EHF European League against Gorenje Velenje.
Phase 2 part 2 of qualification for the World Championship sees Serbia involved in the most exciting tie on paper against Slovenia, who overcame Italy in the previous round. Two strong teams used to playing in major tournaments fighting for one spot will be one of the delights of this week for the neutrals.
“The draw paired us with Slovenia and we have a tough task ahead. These two matches will be hard for both teams, I believe. We know how good they are and what their strengths are,” says Petar Djordjic.
The first leg is scheduled for 13 April at 20:00 CEST in Celje with the second leg three days later, on 16 April at 18:00 CEST in Kragujevac. Toni Gerona’s team knows what is at stake but are determined to conquer this quest.
“Our main focus is that first match in Slovenia. We have to give our best and try to get as much as we can from it. In the second match, we have to play with our hearts in front of our fans, As a player, my wish is to win both matches and to qualify for the championship, but at the same time, I am aware of how hard those matches will be,” adds Djordjic.
Is home-court an advantage in the second leg? Just a small one, if you ask Djordjic.
“It’s a little advantage for us to play the second match in Kragujevac. I believe we will have a full hall and many fans supporting us. I hope our strength and team spirit will have a good outcome. But for now, our mind is fully set on the match in Celje.”
The left back is one of the main players in Serbia’s squad with his attack skills and certainly will be a target for the Slovenian defence. Led by former player and current Trimo Trebnje coach, Uros Zorman, Slovenia will present a somewhat new style of play.
“Uros Zorman took the helm after EHF EURO and already had his debut against Italy in round 1 qualification. He didn’t have much time to prepare the team, therefore, I believe we will see much stronger Slovenia than in those two matches,” says Djordjic, who followed his father Zoran’s footsteps to the Serbia national team.
Djordjic had his debut for Serbia in 2009 at the Mediterranean Games, played for the youth squad, and since EHF EURO 2018 has become a well-known face of the national team. At EHF EURO 2022, he was hindered due to Covid-19 and Serbia, just like Slovenia, failed to progress further than the group phase.
“The last EHF EURO wasn’t easy for us. We had many problems and I believe if we had a complete team we would perform better. At that time, it was hard for us, but we don’t look back anymore. We are looking forward and will give our best for the national team.”
Goals galore in Europe
Serbia will be hoping to see the form Djordjic showed with Benfica recently. He is the team’s top scorer with 77 goals in the European League and celebrated a quarter-final spot last week.
After finishing the group phase in second place behind GOG, Benfica’s first knock-out opponent was Fenix Toulouse. The French team was not an easy opponent and Benfica trailed by four after the first leg, despite 13 goals by Djordjic.
The 31-year-old delivered again a week later with a phenomenal 14 goals in a 36:30 victory and qualification for the quarter-finals. One of the best individual performances of the competition helped Benfica to write history. After failing to qualify for the group phase last season, Benfica are now among the top eight teams in the second-tier competition for the first time.
“We are very satisfied with the win over Toulouse. When you win against a team like them, it’s a great feeling. We had a four-goal deficit after the first game and we knew we will have a hard second match. Thankfully, we played amazingly well and turned things around with the help of our fans. We have a great atmosphere in Portugal and it means a lot to all of us,” says Djordjic.
Both important tasks ahead of Petar Djordjic have Slovenian colours. After two matches against Slovenia, he awaits Slovenian champions, Gorenje Velenje, as an opponent in the quarter-finals of the EHF European League.
“Gorenje Velenje are a very good team and they have proved that by getting this far. At this stage of the competition, there is no easy opponent. We have big motivation to get to the EHF Finals and we will give our best to accomplish that goal. Our task will be to analyse them and to prepare as best as we can.”
Beyond these crucial knockout matches, Djordjic and Benfica have a big battle in the Portuguese league. Currently in third place, two huge matches await against Porto and Sporting, which will decide the title.
“I believe we play better with each week and that progress in form is visible. Soon after national team week, we have a big match against Sporting and that can be one of the crucial matches for the rest of the season. We want to win every match and we want to give our best in this possible title race,” concludes Djordjic with an ever-positive outlook.