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02.10.2013, 12:29
Rutenka: "Slovenia is like a second home for me"
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INTERVIEW: In part 6 of our 'Where are they now?'-series Belarusian-born Siarhei Rutenka, top scorer at the EHF EURO 2006, talks about his special relationship to Slovenia and why it was nevertheless a good decision to return to his native country
 

Rutenka: "Slovenia is like a second home for me"

The countdown clock to the 2014 EHF European Championship continues to tick down - as of October 2013 there will be a mere 100 days to go.

While the participating teams and its star players start getting in shape for the final tournament, we use the opportunity to look back at the stars from yesterday.

The players that stood and occasionally still stand for success at the previous EHF EURO events. Part 6 of the 'Where are they now?'-series looks at Siarhei Rutenka.

Born in Belarus, Siarhei Rutenka has represented two different national teams during his career. First he played for his homeland, but after transferring first to RK Gorenje and then to Celje Pivovarna Lasko, he acquired Slovenian citizenship and started to play for Slovenia.

With this team, the left back took part in several major international competitions: At the EHF EURO 2006 in Switzerland, Rutenka became the tournament's top scorer with 51 goals. However, his goals did not help that much as Slovenia only finished eighth in the end.

At that stage Rutenka already played for the Spanish club BM Ciudad Real with which he won the EHF Champions League in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

He then moved to Barcelona, pocketing yet another EHF Champions League in 2011. Nowadays he is one of the leading players in the Catalan side.

Meanwhile, his career at national team level made another twist. Rutenka decided to play again for his native country Belarus, and in 2010, he got the official right to do it.

Currently the 32-year-old Rutenka is the team captain of Belarus and is going to lead the team at 2014 Men's European Handball Championship in Denmark.   

eurohandball.com has talked to Siarhei Rutenka about then and now.

eurohandball.com: What are your memories of the 2006 European Championship?
Siarhei Rutenka: I still have mixed feelings. The tournament was organised very well, which was a positive thing. But the Slovenian team did not reach its objectives. So there was some disappointment.

eurohandball.com: However, you became a top scorer of the tournament. What did that mean to you?
Siarhei Rutenka: One the one hand, it was a pleasant feeling. In terms of scoring, that was probably my best tournament ever. But handball is a team sport, and it is the team result that really matters.

Slovenia finished eighth - well, maybe it's not so bad, but we had hoped for a better performance. But, as I said, it was nice to become the top scorer. It was like a small spoon of sugar for me personally.

eurohandball.com: You have participated in several major international tournaments both for Slovenia and Belarus. Which of them was the best for you?
Siarhei Rutenka: With Slovenian team, it is the Olympic Games in Athens that come to my mind first. I wasn't given too much playing time there, but I think I used my chance well. Maybe our result at that tournament was not the best (the team did not make it past the preliminary round), but I keep good memories, probably because it was the Olympics.

Speaking about Belarus, I should mention the 2000 Junior European Championship which took place in Athens. Yes, again in Athens - the Greek capital is a lucky city for me! 13 years ago, we won a silver medal there.

eurohandball.com: And the biggest disappointment?
Siarhei Rutenka: Probably the World Championship 2005 in Tunisia, in particular the match against France in the main round (a 26:26 draw). A victory would have given Slovenia a place in the semifinal, and we were very close to it.

But in the end, the game ended in a draw, and we had to play for the 11th place. It was really disappointing as we were very close to our goal. But it was our own fault that we could not reach it.

eurohandball.com: What was the reaction in Slovenia when you decided to play again for your native country Belarus?
Siarhei Rutenka: I am really thankful to Slovenian fans, journalists, federation for their positive attitude. Everyone reacted well as they understood that I was coming home. And it was an extra motivation for me as I felt that I made the right decision.

eurohandball.com: What is your connection with Slovenia now?
Siarhei Rutenka: I still have many friends there. A lot of guys who I played with have already finished their careers and currently work as coaches. But I also have friendly relationships with the present-day members of the national team.

Slovenia is like second home for me. I have not forgotten the language, I still speak it fluently and follow the situation in the country. I am interested in what is going on there. It was a great part of my career and private life. So the memories are good, but this is something from the past. Now that page is turned over, and my life is going on.

eurohandball.com: Ironically, Belarus earned a spot at the 2014 European Championship in Denmark at the expense of Slovenia. What were your feelings when your present team beat your former team in the decisive qualifying match in June?
Siarhei Rutenka: Oh, they were really mixed. On the one hand, I have many friends in Slovenia, and I felt sorry for them. But on the other hand, I was delighted that Belarus had won a crucial away match and would play in the final tournament.

It is a pity that it was just Slovenia that we had to beat. While representing Slovenia, I always stressed I was happy to never play against Belarus. But it did not work the other way round, and I had to oppose my second homeland.

eurohandball.com: What result can Belarus achieve in Denmark?
Siarhei Rutenka: For our team, the upcoming tournament will be even harder than the 2013 World Championship in Spain. We are still weaker than other teams.

However, we have picked up some experience during the recent years, playing in the World Championship as well as in the qualifying rounds of the European and World Championships. And Dinamo Minsk players certainly have more self-confidence after participating in VELUX EHF Champions League matches.

If we progress from the group phase in Denmark, it will be a big achievement. But nothing is guaranteed. Belarus are a team that may bring a lot of problems for the strong opponents, but also may lose against a team which is weaker on paper.

In fact, merely a participation in any major tournament is already an achievement for us. But we want to move on...


TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / ts
 
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