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02/02/2016

17 days of EHF EURO 2016: Surprises, disappointments and records

In her final post EHF EURO blogger Magda Pluszewska writes about the creativity of Julen Aguinagalde, the transformation of Tobias Reichmann and the acrobatic stunts of Michal Jurecki

Photo: Sascha Klahn

The adventure of the EHF EURO 2016 has come to an end, so let’s have a look what really happened in the past 17 days.

Here is my summary of everything that stuck the most in my mind, what caused the greatest excitement, the widest smile on my face and what makes me proud the most as a Pole.

Ladies and gentlemen, take a look at this totally subjective ‘best of’ list from the EHF EURO 2016.

The biggest surprise

I give half of my kingdom to the one who before the tournament put money on a German victory! I don’t think that many of you even saw the young team reaching in the semi-final – especially considering all the injured players they had to replace.

Just before the EHF EURO their brilliant wings, Uwe Gensheimer and Patrick Groetzki, got injured, line player Patrick Wiencek was out anyway and during the tournament they had to replace Steffen Weinhold and Christian Dissinger – it all didn’t look good.

But Germany were moving from match to match and proved that in sport no one is irreplaceable. What Andreas Wolff did goal was just amazing! Tobias Reichmann’s performance stunned the fans. Finally, the way the entire team outclassed Spain in the final was the icing on the cake.

The most painful disappointment

For me, as a Pole, it was definitely my team finishing only seventh. Various experts had spoken ahead of the EHF EURO about the hosts’ potential, but rather nobody assumed that we would not see Michael Biegler’s charges at least in the semi-finals.

The Polish team maybe did not impress with a beautiful game in the matches against Serbia and FYR Macedonia, but the cosmic spectacle they created against France, made the fans’ hopes skyrocket. The media already hung medals around our boys’ necks, without paying attention to players’ warnings that this was maybe a bit too early.

Then there was the team’s ‘blooper’ against Norway (although looking at the attitude of the Scandinavian team in the tournament, this word is probably not appropriate), the not very exciting victory against Belarus and finally ignominious defeat against Croatia.

Before the match against the Balkan team, I smiled at a Croatian journalist, who said that he believed in this eleven-goal win that would open the gates to the semi-final. But the ‘white-and-reds’ committed plenty of mistakes in attack, they lost the ball, hit the posts and were ruthlessly punished by their opponents, in particular by the swift-footed Manuel Strlek. The result? A fourteen-goal failure which eventually led to Poland missing the semi-final and the resignation of Michael Biegler.

The biggest revelation of the tournament

I must admit that I can’t choose between two players: Andreas Wolff and Tobias Reichmann. It's hard to find a word that describes some of Wolff’s save, because the adjective 'spectacular' seems to be simply insufficient. It seems to me, however, that Wolff, who is currently also one of the best goalkeepers in the German Bundesliga, was expected to give a good performance.

Slightly different case is Reichmann’s case, who originally was supposed to be more of a substitute to Patrick Groetzki. But with Groetzki sidelined with injury, the all-of-a-sudden first choice right wing exceeded the expectations of fans.

He surprised with his efficiency, speed, finesse, cleverness and range of throws. In a nutshell: with all the things that a winger may surprise with. In addition, he was almost flawless from the penalty line (90% efficiency) and became some kind of a team leader.

I remember the first training of Tobias in Kielce. From the beginning he hypnotised everyone with his speed and jumping skills. But I had the feeling that something was missing. Maybe confidence, perhaps stubbornness or temper.

He seemed to be a bit lost in the new team in a new country. This season, even before the European Championship, he began to change. Finally, in the tournament itself he became a man who led his team to victory – not only with his spectacular goals and high efficiency, but also (and perhaps in particular) with his emotional attitude that motivated his teammates.

He fully deserved a place in the All-star team. With the 46 goals scored, he was only two goals shy of Spain’s EHF EURO 2016 top scorer Valero Rivera.

The friendliest team

This accolade unquestionably belongs to Spain, who dominated social media with their funny photos from the dressing room and beyond. Following the tweets of players, I'm almost sure that the main initiator behind this was Julen Aguinagalde.

In the end the 2013 world champions did not win gold, but in their words shortly after the last match I could not find a single gram of resentment. There were just big compliments to the Germans, satisfaction with second place and a humble acknowledgement of their rivals’ superiority.

Even head coach Manolo Cadenas – who also coaches Wisla Plock here in Poland – was able to laugh when I told him that it seems that in Poland he is simply doomed to silver. If it is not with the national team, then in the competition against Vive Tauron Kielce in the Polish league.

The most selfless action

Players sliding into advertising boards is not so uncommon in handball. Especially in the case of wingers, for whom six metres is often not enough to slow down after a frantic sprint in counter attack. But jumping above the board and performing something like a somersault?! Even in volleyball I’ve never seen anything like this.

That reckless jump took place in the 41st minute of the match Poland vs Norway. First, Krzysztof Lijewski somehow magically pulled the ball out of Magnus Jondal’s hand, who was running in a counter attack towards the goal of Slawek Szmal. Lijewski threw it back somewhere, and Michal Jurecki at any cost wanted to save the ball.

He grabbed it with one hand in the air right in front of an advertising board, performing some kind of stroke over a horse. However, the laws of physics turned Jurecki’s body upside down who therefore finished a full rotation and landed more or less firmly on both feet. He laughed about it later, saying that he should have landed with telemark.

The most interesting record 

The EHF EURO 2016 from the very beginning was breaking records. Already the friendly match between Poland and Denmark in June on the occasion of the final tournament draw saw a record attendance for Polish handball.

The preliminary and main round was then watched by 342,000 fans across the four halls, already more than the overall numbers at the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark. Eventually, after all 48 matches had been played, there were more than 400,000 people in the stands plus 100,000 who visited the fan zones.

The greatest achievement, however, seems to be choosing four players from one club to the All-star team. At the EHF EURO 2012 there were three from AG Kobenhavn (Mikkel Hansen, Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson and Rene Toft Hansen), but this time, there were even four who all play for Vive Tauron Kielce: Michal Jurecki, Tobias Reichmann, Julen Aguinagalde and Manuel Strlek. So many representatives of one Polish club in the All-star team of a big tournament is unique in the history of Polish sport.

Screenshot above taken from polsatsport.pl

written by Magda Pluszewska