Driven by a wave of enthusiasm, the selection of the Austrian Handball Federation with successes across the Czech Republic, Ukraine and North Macedonia entered the main round. The Croatians also prevailed in their preliminary round group in Graz, beating Montenegro (27:21), Belarus (31:23) and Serbia (24:21).
ÖHB team boss Ales Pajovic, assistant coach Erwin Gierlinger and goalie coach Mattias Anderson had their hands full with the physiotherapists to prepare the team for this challenge. Final round guest and medal candidate Croatia will push the Austrians physically and mentally. “It will be a really difficult game,” said Pajovic, “we are realistic, Croatia is favorite.”
Austria with a lot of confidence in the next EM phase
The successful run of the ÖHB team sparked euphoria. As a group winner, you also count on chances at the start of the main round against Croatia.
Things will also get very high in the stands in Vienna, where in the main round group I three games will be played on each of the four match days (Thursday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday) (starting times 4:00 p.m., 6:15 p.m., 8:30 p.m.). The European Handball Association (EHF) and the ÖHB as EM co-organizers can hope for a sold-out city hall. All games of the Austrians (6.15 p.m.) will be broadcast live on ORF1. The other games can be watched live in ORF Sport + – with the exception of the Czech Republic – Belarus.
“With this audience behind you, anything is possible,” said Pajovic and his players in unison after the preliminary round. “Goosebumps, you don’t want to stop playing. I actually want to warm up again and get out again, ”said wing Sebastian Frimmel, describing the atmosphere in the town hall. Like North Macedonia, Croatia will also be cheered on by a large crowd. Should the Austrians succeed in starting the game dominantly, that would be extremely important.
Which large handball caliber Croatia represents shows its final round record. Since 1994 one has been represented at every EM and WM. The 2003 world championship was the highlight, and numerous medals were won at major events. Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004 established handball as the number one sport in Croatia.
Austria’s head coach Pajovic has good memories of the Croatians. As a player, he won with Slovenia on the way to the 2004 European Championship final in the semi-finals with 27:25. Austria’s most recent clashes with Croatia were lost, albeit only slightly: At the 2010 European Championship, the ÖHB team lost 23:26 in the main round in Vienna. At the 2015 World Cup in Qatar, they lost 30:32 in the preliminary round.
“But these were actually completely different teams,” relativized veteran Janko Bozovic, who was there in 2015 and has occupied the right back of the national team for many years. The 34-year-old left-hander, who plays for VfL Gummersbach in the German Bundesliga, went through a very strong group phase. Bozovic turned out to be a hardened and accurate counterpart to 23-year-old Nikola Bilyk (THW Kiel), who shone on the left side of the body.
The throwing duo will be challenged again against Croatia – not only because of top star Domagoj Duvnjak, the world handball player from 2013 and Kiel club colleague from Bilyk. “A very, very strong collective with world class people in every position,” Bozovic described the opponent. “But if we play like we do against North Macedonia, with good coverage and strong goalie performance, then we definitely have a chance.”
Croatia’s team principal Lino Cervar is best known to Bozovic from his season at Metalurg Skopje 2015/16. “A real fox, for me one of the best coaches in the world. I learned a lot from him. You can currently see that he attaches great importance to cover in Croatia, ”said Bozovic about the 69-year-old coaching legend.
ÖHB team boss Pajovic with great ambitions
In the European Championship main round, Austria is dealing with the big chunks. The Ales Pajovic team has high goals for this.
Thanks to the two points that Austria brings from the preliminary round, the chance of a place in the top three of the main round group would increase significantly with a win. Participation in the final weekend in Stockholm, where the match for fifth place, semi-finals and finals will take place, would be a dream goal for the ÖHB team. Of course, Pajovic didn’t want to think about that yet.
He was preoccupied with the match preparation “the outstanding 5-1 coverage of the Croatians, which caused many problems for Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro”. You have to find solutions, says the ÖHB head coach, “so that we can achieve simple goals”. The Austrians’ self-confidence has grown considerably in recent days. “With a strong cover, Janko (Bozovic, note) and Niko (Bilyk) in attack everything can happen,” said Pajovic.
Profiles of the ÖHB opponents in the EM main round
Team Principal: Lino Cervar
Key players: Domagoj Duvnjak (back, 31, THW Kiel), Luka Cindric (26, back, FC Barcelona)
Greatest successes: World Champion 2003, Olympic Champion 1996 and 2004, European Championship Silver 2008 and 2010
14. EM participation
Team Principal: Jordi Ribera
Key players: Julen Aguinagalde (district, 37, Kielce / POL), Gonzalo Perez de Vargas (goal, 29, FC Barcelona)
Greatest successes: World Champion 2005 and 2013, European Champion 2018
14. EM participation
Team leader: Christian Prokop
Key players: Uwe Gensheimer (wing, 33, Rhein-Neckar Löwen), Julius Kühn (back area, 26, MT Melsungen)
Greatest successes: World Champion 1938, 1978, 2007, European Champion 2004, 2016
13. EM participation
Team leader: Yuri Shevtsov
Key players: Barys Puchouski (back, 33, engine Zaporozhye / UKR), Arzjom Karalek (district, 23, Kielce / POL)
Greatest successes: European Championship eighth in 1994, World Cup ninth in 1995
Sixth European Championship participation