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10.10.2013, 11:55
"There’s no point not going for gold"
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INTERVIEW: Denmark´s coach Ulrik Wilbek reveals his expectations ahead of the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark in January.
 

"There’s no point not going for gold"

Denmark´s national coach Ulrik Wilbek is not afraid of putting his own team among the absolute top favourites ahead of the EHF EURO2014 on home court in January.

"We will be playing at home and we are the current European champions, so there would be no point saying that we do not expect the gold," he tells eurohandball.com in this exclusive interview.

The Danes started their preparations for the final tournament with a training camp in Sønderborg at the beginning of October.

The preparations will continue at the end of this month and the beginning of November with a training camp and the Golden League tournament in Norway, where the opponents will be Norway, France and Croatia.

Between Christmas and the new year the Danes will have a another training camp, followed by another one ahead of the second Golden League tournament at the beginning of January in Paris, France.

At that point, the head coach hopes that his team will be fit and in the best possible shape for the EHF EURO 2014.

For Wilbek, who has been at the helm of the Danish men’s national team since 2005 and who led the team to victories at the EHF EURO 2008 and 2012, the event in Denmark will mark his last appearance as Danish head coach.

The 55-year-old is destined to become the Danish Handball Federation’s sports director from July 2014. The DHF has announced that Wilbek’s successor will be announced at a press conference on Monday, 14 October 2013.

eurohandball.com: What were the benefits of your first training camp since June, the one held in Sonderborg at the beginning of October?
Ulrik Wilbek: We got some continuity back into the squad which is always important, as have not been together for some time. Of course, some players were missing, but that will always be the case on such occasions.

eurohandball.com: Do you feel you have sufficient time to prepare your team for the championship?
Ulrik Wilbek: Of course, I could always have wanted more time to prepare, but I have learned to live with the working conditions I have, and those conditions are pretty much the same to all other nations.

I am pretty sure that when we reach January 12, when the tournament starts, we will be where we should be.

eurohandball.com: What does the introduction of the Men’s Golden League, similar to the women’s tournament which was introduced last year, mean for your preparations?
Ulrik Wilbek:  It means that we get to meet some of our strongest rivals for the title in January at the EHF EURO (France and Croatia). Spain are probably the only candidates for the title who will not be present in Norway.

eurohandball.com: France and Norway are permanent participants at the Golden League, like Denmark. Does that not mean that you get to meet the same opponents too often?
Ulrik Wilbek: It doesn’ t necessarily have to be that way, as the conditions are different from time to time. For instance, at the third Golden League of the season, the one in April, some of the nations may be using the tournament to implement new players in their teams ahead of future challenges, so it will not always be the same.

eurohandball.com: On Monday (7 October) you announced your squad for the Golden League in Norway. How close is that squad to your final squad for the EURO – apart, of course, from the fact that you can only have 16 players in your final tournament squad?
Ulrik Wilbek: Apart from that limit, there will almost always be players who get injured, but apart from that, this is the squad I nominated in June, and if those players perform well at the Golden League in Norway, it will be difficult for others to get into the squad – but no doors are locked, of course.

eurohandball.com: People have been tending to see Niklas Landin and Mikkel Hansen as Denmark’s key players. Is that still the case?
Ulrik Wilbek: No, I am not sure it will necessarily have to be them, as we have so many other great players. I would rather name Kasper Søndergaard as a key player, as he is crucial to us on the right back position, and he has improved a lot lately.

Another key player might be René Toft Hansen who has turned into a world class line player over the past couple of years. Actually, I think he is among the three best line players in the world right now, so he and Søndergaard might be two bids for key players from me.

eurohandball.com: Right after the draw in June, you appeared confident about Denmark’s preliminary group with FYR Macedonia, Czech Republic and Austria, while you were a bit more uneasy about your possible main round group, containing three out of the four teams Spain, Norway, Hungary and Iceland. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Ulrik Wilbek: It is obvious that Spain are extremely tough opponents, and Norway and Iceland in their strongest outfits are also very strong teams. Furthermore, we played a very tight quarter-final against Hungary at the World Championship in Spain this January, so no matter what teams we meet from that group, they will be tough opponents.

And then we should not forget that our opening match against (FYR) Macedonia will also be a key match, as we always have our problems with the Macedonians.

eurohandball.com: You have already stated towards Danish media that only the gold medal will be good enough for you in January. Don’t you put some extra pressure on your players with that statement?
Ulrik Wilbek: Maybe so, but considering the facts that we are playing at home and that we were in the final of the latest World Championship, there would be no point in not stating that we are going for the gold. That does not mean that we are sure to get it, though.

eurohandball.com: How are you going to prepare your players for the pressure which will inevitable come at the EHF EURO?
Ulrik Wilbek: The vast majority of the players has played several major championships before and has also won medals, so they are used to being under pressure. Of course, there will be more pressure this time, when we are playing at home, and we will have to deal with that pressure.

You have to bear in mind, however, that our opponents at the EHF EURO will also be under a lot of pressure – from the large crowd who will be supporting us.


TEXT: Peter Bruun / ts
 
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