Debelic: “They will give their best to remain undefeated”
This season saw Astrakhanochka return to the group phase of a European competition after a four-year wait — and as they prepare for their EHF European League Women quarter-final double header against Astrakhanochka, the Russian side are aiming high.
Among the four foreigners in the team is Croatian Ana Debelic.
The 27-year-old line player arrived at Astrakhanochka this season from Podravka Vegeta, where she spent four years. The talented Croatian has had a season to remember after leaving her home country for the first time.
“After a long time, I decided to leave Croatia and try myself elsewhere. My goal was to get my master’s degree while in Croatia and after I succeeded I decided it’s time to go. I am very happy I came to Astrakhanochka this season and it has been an amazing experience for me,” says Debelic.
Debelic started playing handball at the age of six and has since played for Opatija, Zamet, Zelina, Lokomotiva as well as Podravka before the move to Russia. She has developed each season and was part of the Croatia national team at the EHF EURO events in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
2020: A turning point
The EHF EURO 2016 and 2018 do not hold a special place for the Croatia women’s team, as they finished at the bottom of the final ranking on both occasions. 2020 saw the tide turn.
Croatia went to EHF EURO 2020 in Denmark as an underdog and returned with a bronze medal — the first women’s handball medal in the country’s history. And Debelic had her role in that success too.
“So far, it has been a season to remember for me. I joined my first international club, won a bronze medal with Croatia and on top of that I was part of the All-star Team at the EHF EURO 2020. If you have told me this at the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t believe you. I have to say that in these challenging times, the EHF EURO was on the top level and we must say congratulations to everyone involved in the project,” continues Debelic.
Debelic is an important player for Croatia, both on and off the court. Full of positivity and easy to talk to, always with a smile on her face, she did not have a problem fitting into the Astrakhanochka team.
“I love it here in Russia. Some people have some stereotypes about Russia and Russian clubs but everything around the club is well organised. I also enjoy the culture and food — I must say that because I love to eat. Food, people and new friends are something I will always remember. Another big plus is that I learned Russian.”
This is her first and last season in Astrakhanochka. All eyes were on her after the great EURO success and Debelic received an invitation from Vipers Kristianstad. From next season, she will be part of the Norwegian powerhouse.
“Vipers is another big step for me and my career. They are a top European club with even higher ambitions and I’m happy they gave me the opportunity to prove myself. That’s why I want to accomplish as much as I can with Astrakhanochka as I will soon be saying goodbye to my friends in Russia,” says Debelic.
Astrakhanochka had big goals from the beginning of their first season back in a European cup group phase after 2016/17. In the EHF European League Women, they were aiming for the first two places in the group and to proceed as far as possible — and they achieved it. Now they face the quarter-finals as well as important matches in the Russian league.
“Astrakhanochka won third place in the Russian Cup — just like the last year. We had many injuries this season and tough away matches which affected us. We are not as strong as we were at the beginning of the season. We had our goals for the EHF European League and Russian league, and for now, we have achieved then,” says Debelic.
In group C of the EHF European League, the Russian side finished second with eight points right behind CS Minaur Baia Mare. In the quarter-finals, Astrakhanochka will meet Siófok KC in double header in Hungary next week.
The first leg is scheduled for Friday 2 April at 19:00 CEST and the second one will be played on Sunday 4 April at 16:00 CEST. Both will be streamed live on EHFTV.
“We came second in the group. I must say we were satisfied with that. Somehow, that was the goal. Our next opponent is Siófok. The Hungarian team is one of the top clubs in this competition and it will not be easy. They aim high and have an advantage of the home court in both matches,” says Debelic.
“We have our good sides and bad sides, just like them. I expect a tight match until the very end. I think there is no favourite in this double header. They are an experienced team without a defeat in their group and I am sure they will give their best to remain undefeated. My team will fight as much as we can. We want to go as far as we can.”
For Debelic, there are some well-known faces in Siófok’s squad. Even though they will be on two opposite sides, she is looking forward to seeing her national teammate Katarina Jezic and Croatian coaches Zdravko Zovko and Nikola Skoric.
“I am happy that I will see some familiar faces in Hungary. It’s always nice to catch up with your friends. I still don’t know if Penka [Andrea Kobetic] will be there as I know she had problems with her ankle, but I’m glad that I will be able to talk to Keti [Jezic] and our coaches from Croatia.”
EHF EURO 2020 photo: Anze Malovrh/kolektiff