Talent Dodic and Zagreb focus on the future
HC PPD Zagreb surprised in their second match under ‘new’ coach Slavko Goluza last week, upsetting Telekom Veszprém HC in round 8 of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League. Talented Zagreb centre back Stefan Dodic hopes this win will help the team forward, starting with their match against C.S. Dinamo Bucuresti on Thursday.
Zagreb resumed the EHF Champions League two weeks ago with Slavko Goluza on the bench, the head coach who started his third stint at the club.
Zagreb lost that match 28:32 in Veszprém but turned the tables on their Hungarian opponents the following week, beating them 29:26 – a result that sparks new hope for the club’s wishes of going through to the play-offs.
Zagreb have been struggling in recent seasons to get to the knockout stage of the competition, despite a good mixture of experienced players and young talents.
One of the young guns is 19-year-old back Stefan Dodic, a Serbian international who is a Respect Your Talent alumni after being named MVP of the Men’s 20 EHF EURO 2022 last July.
Dodic, on loan in Zagreb from Lomza Industria Kielce, has come a long way from his hometown of Vranje, where he started to play handball.
He spent most of his childhood in North Macedonia, spending the early years of his career in a handball academy, working with good coaches, and playing for Metalurg, Aerodrom, Ohrid, and Vardar.
The six years in North Macedonia had a huge influence on both Dodic and his family – but it was well worth it as Stefan made his EHF Champions League debut for Metalurg at the age of 15 and became the youngest goal scorer in the competition.
“My parents were giving their best in supporting me, driving me to training from Vranje in Serbia to Skopje in North Macedonia, every day for a year and a half. I was still in elementary school and I could not skip it as school was obligatory,” Dodic says.
“Playing EHF Champions League at 15 gave me more confidence. Some players wait for that chance for a long time, but I was lucky with the situation in Metalurg to get that chance early. I am still a young player and learn with every new experience, making it easier for the future.”
Dodic is one of the biggest talents in handball, a good passer and strong shooter. He is a classic centre back, who can also play on the left.
Signed by Kielce in 2021, he first played on loan for HC Vardar 1961 before joining Zagreb in the summer of 2022.
“I am very satisfied here. I play a lot, which is very important for a young player. My teammates are great and they have accepted me greatly, I didn’t have to adjust to anything. My only job is to work hard and to give my best on the court,” says Dodic, who has 15 goals and 16 assists so far in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League this season.
Playing EHF Champions League at 15 gave me more confidence. Some players wait for that chance for a long time, but I was lucky with the situation in Metalurg to get that chance early. I am still a young player and learn with every new experience, making it easier for the future.
In the first six rounds, Zagreb managed just a win against FC Porto and a draw with Orlen Wisla Plock, when Goluza was brought in to replace Ivica Obrvan on the bench. Goluza shook things up with the won over Veszprém surely giving a new boost to the team.
“We did not have a very good start to the season in Zagreb,” Dodic says.
“We need to focus on future matches and give our best in each following match. We defeated Veszprém, a team that plays for the EHF FINAL4 every season. That match needs to be our booster in the upcoming matches. We have a good atmosphere in the team and there is no reason why we should not continue in this way.”
Round 9 of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League takes Zagreb to Bucharest, where they meet Dinamo (Thursday at 18:45 CET live on EHFTV).
“We lost against Dinamo by only one goal in round 6. I think this will be a completely different match from that one. I believe it is going to be hard and that they are a much stronger team than what they have shown in Zagreb. With a great coach and amazing players, they also have great support from the fans,” Dodic says.
“The main task is not to give up, fight until the end and hold on to our playing system. If we continue to play like we did against Veszprém with a strong defence, which is the most important segment in Zagreb, I think we have a chance to win.”
Now a EHF Champions League regular, Dodic had his national team debut for Serbia in January 2021, netting for the first time against France in their historic 27:24 win in a Men’s EHF EURO 2022 Qualifier.
Still, he spent his summers with the junior national team, most recently at the M20 EHF EURO where he helped Serbia win bronze and was awarded MVP, which marked his entry into EHF’s Respect Your Talent programme, promoting the holistic development of talented players’ career on and off the court.
“I was very satisfied with the M20 EHF EURO 2022. We did not expect to win the bronze medal but we all gave our best on the court. As a team, we looked very good on the court and I believe we deserved that medal,” Dodic says looking back to the tournament in Portugal.
“The MVP award was of course a great feeling, but I would not have been there without my teammates, because all of them played well and helped me to get there.”
Dodic says the Respect Your Talent programme is great for young players.
“We had a very interesting education, had a chance to meet top players and get their advice, like Victor Tomás during the M20 EHF EURO 2022,” Dodic says.
“We as young players received a lot of information we need on our path to becoming top players one day.”