This will be the fifth consecutive appearance for Croatia at the IHF Women’s Youth (U18) World Championship – yet the European side have been somewhat stuck in purgatory, finishing eighth, 10th, 12th and 14th in the previous four appearances.
As the focus shifted on young talent, new players have popped up over the last few years and their performances at the W17 EHF EURO 2021 have been impressive, especially with wins against Sweden and Montenegro.
They still faltered against tougher sides, such as Russia and Denmark, but clear wins against Romania and Norway in the placement matches duly delivered a superb fifth-place finish last summer.
Missing the All-star left wing from the W17 EHF EURO 2021, Katja Vukovic – their top scorer in the tournament – will surely be a blow for Croatia, but the fact that they will be heavily favoured in their group means that a top 16 place is very likely to be achieved. Unless their preliminary round opponents pull off some major surprises, Croatia will likely finish their group – which is also featuring Kazakhstan, Egypt and India – with the maximum number of points, positioning themselves well for a quarter-finals berth. That quarter-final scenario would at least tie their best-ever finish in the competition.
In general, the pressure will be on the European side to deliver, especially in the next stage of the competition when they will face fellow European opponents, with the focus shifting on centre back Iva Bule, who scored 40 goals at the W17 EHF EURO 2021.
However, their preparations have been underlined by two losses against France, 23:31 and 24:28 in two friendly matches played in Croatia just two weeks before the start of the tournament in North Macedonia.
Key players: Iva Bule (centre back), Katja Maric (left wing), Andjela Zagar (right back)
Qualification for North Macedonia 2022: W17 EHF EURO 2021 – 5th place
History in tournament: 2012: 14th, 2014: 10th, 2016: 8th, 2018: 12th
Group at North Macedonia 2022: Group D (Croatia, Kazakhstan, Egypt, India)