20220115 Toni Gerona SRB Blog

How Toni Gerona brought Serbia back into the spotlight

Two years ago, almost to the day, Serbia were on the eve of an early return home from the EHF EURO 2020. Three defeats in the preliminary round, including two in derbies against Croatia and Montenegro, meant that the national team, led by Nenad Perunisic, could not progress to the main round.

These three defeats, combined with the five that Serbia had suffered during the EHF EURO 2018, meant that the Balkan side arrived in Szeged having lost eight of their last nine EHF EURO games.

“This Serbia has always been composed of amazing players, but from the outside, it never really looked like a team,” says France coach Guillaume Gille.

But then came Antonio Gerona. The Spanish coach took on Serbia in May 2020 after leading Tunisia to the title in the African Championship, and right away, the national team looked completely different.

“I did not change much, I had amazing players in my squad and I just had to make them play as a team. That took a lot of work but, really, a lot of it’s down to the players,” explains the former Barça assistant coach.

The results were quick to follow. For their first two games with Toni Gerona on the bench, Serbia beat France at home before getting a draw away.

“That gave us a huge boost of confidence. But then, we had to prove that these two games were not one-offs, that we could hold the momentum,” remembers right wing Bogdan Radivojevic.

The 48-year-old Gerona only changed “small details”, according to Radivojevic. But, most importantly, he gave confidence to hugely talented players.

“He showed us that, as a team, we were even more than the sum of our parts. Before that, it was different. Now, you can feel the energy between us, we almost are like a gang,” Radivojevic adds.

This gang mentality has now changed everything, especially in Serbia’s opponents’ eyes. Ukraine were defeated without mercy on Thursday while Croatia had to deliver a world-class performance to beat them in the EHF EURO 2022 second round.

Guillaume Gille expects the same kind of battle as France prepare for Serbia with a main round ticket at stake on Monday.

“Now that Toni is here, one can feel that all the players are pushing in the same direction. And when you how talented they are, that makes Serbia even more dangerous,” Gille reckons.

Now acting as a proper team, Serbia have found the right balance between keeping focus on the court and being able to heat up when requested.

“We will need to be mentally cold-blooded, not to panic if things go wrong, but also very strong, because the mentality in this team is amazing,” says Gerona, who hopes that Serbia’s road at the EHF EURO 2022 will not be over on Monday night.

“Going to the main round would mean playing three more games, gaining some more experience. For a young team like us, still building up its future, that is priceless.”

20220117 Toni Gerona SRB

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