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31.10.2013, 15:39
Jicha: I'm still waiting for the perfect match
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FEATURE: Part 8 of the 'Where are they now?'-series looks at Czech superstar Filip Jicha and reveals what became the key to all the success he enjoyed in his illustrious career
 

Jicha: I'm still waiting for the perfect match

The countdown clock to the 2014 EHF European Championship in Denmark continues to tick down.

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 8 of our 'Where are they now?'-series is Czech left back Filip Jicha who was voted Most Valuable Player at the EHF EURO 2010 in Austria.

2010 – it was the year of Filip Jicha. The Czech (now 31) was more than the just the leader of the Czech team at the EHF EURO 2010 in Austria.

Even though his team missed the semi-final, and eventually only finished eighth, Jicha's name appeared at the top of all statistics.

Best scorer of the tournament with 53 goals, No.1 in assists (24) and steals (11) – and so the decision to make him the tournament's MVP was not a hard one to take.

"I had never expected to be awarded MVP at this EHF EURO, but I was in perfect form at this time," says Jicha looking back.

"We had high-flying plans, we had a new coach, we installed a new playing system, and we invested so much time in preparation, we had an incredible harmony in our team  – and I really enjoyed the EHF EURO from the first to the last day," says the left back of German side THW Kiel.

The tournament in Austria started with some disappointments for Czech Republic which were close to elimination after the preliminary round.

"We had lost against Spain and eventual EHF EURO champions France, so our final match of the first stage against Hungary was a match of do or die," Jicha remembers – and thanks to his prowess it ended with a 'do', not a 'die', as Jicha scored the incredible number of 14 goals.

"This result really boosted us for the main round – and in the first match we met Slovenia and I faced my former club coach Noka Serdarusic.

"We played like being on fire, after we had lost against Slovenia right before the EHF EURO in a test match. Intermediately we were ahead by ten goals – and after this victory the gate to the semi-finals was widely open for us."

But a defeat against Poland shattered Jicha’s and the Czech Republic's dreams. A draw in the final match against Germany meant that Czech Republic in the end ranked ahead of teams such as Slovenia, Germany, Russia or Hungary. 

"The EHF EURO 2010 is etched in my mind, it was simply incredible," says Jicha.

The key to success? A baby girl

But being awarded Most Valuable Player was only the beginning of a year that became one which was close to perfection.

A few months later Jicha led THW Kiel to the German national championship and became the key for winning the VELUX EHF Champions League in an incredible final against FC Barcelona.

Jicha was the top scorer of the VELUX EHF Champions League and was voted World Handball Player of the Year 2010.

One key to all the the success Jicha enjoyed in 2010 was a baby, born in 2009.

"My wife gave birth to our daughter Valeria– and from that moment on I had felt that handball is not everything in my life.

"I became much more relaxed and did not have to go with the head through the wall for every shot. I changed my style to assists my teammates and not to try to score with every shot."

Misfortune in Serbia

In 2012 Jicha was once more the key player for Czech Republic at EHF EURO – but in Serbia happiness and disappointment were very close to each other.

"We had beaten Germany in our opening match – and we knew that we only needed one more point to proceed. But then we lost against Sweden and were under real pressure in our final match against the Macedonians, who were frenetically supported by more than 4,000 spectators in Nis.

"For most of my teammates this atmosphere was something completely new – and finally we missed the main round, but that’s sport."

In the meantime the general interest in handball in general and Jicha in particular had extremely grown in the Czech Republic.

The external pressure became higher, the expectations were huge. "We learnt it the hard way, but it was no crisis. I feel responsible that we missed the main round in Serbia, as I missed too many shots.

"I forgot to use my head in crucial situations," Jicha says.

An 'incredible' honour

Nowadays Jicha looks back at another VELUX EHF Champions League trophy he won with Kiel 2012, several domestic titles with the German side – and a very special individual honour.

At the 2013 VELUX EHF FINAL4 he was named as member of the 'Ultimate Selection of 20 years of EHF Champions League' – as the only active player.

"This award is incredible. Just look back on 20 years of Champions League, and you will recognise what big players could have been awarded on the left back position," says Jicha and starts going into rhapsodies.

"When I was a young boy, my biggest dream was to play one single Champions League match in my life. I never expected to win this trophy, everything was so far away, but then all dreams became reality.

"All trophies and awards made me so proud, but especially this 'Ultimate Selection' award.

"To get something like a lifetime award means that you have already retired or should retire soon– but I still have the fire inside to play for some more years. And I still can and want to improve. I am still waiting and preparing for the perfect match, which I haven't played to date."

Ready to write history one more time

Besides taking to the court for THW Kiel, where Jicha has a contract until 2016, he will have the chance to show the perfect match at the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark.

And who else could have been the one to secure the first spot for Czech Republic in this tough qualification group with Montenegro and Germany?

"We never expect to eliminate Germany which should have much more handball know-how compared to a small country like Czech Republic," says Jicha.

"But we managed everything through our team spirit. A lot of our players had never been part of a major event like an EHF EURO, so in the final training session before our final qualification match against Montenegro we, the experienced ones, spoke to our young guns and explained them the greatness of an EHF EURO. And now we are part of it again."

Filip Jicha is ready to write history one more time.


Where are they now? - Part 7 - Kasper Hvidt, best goalkeeper at the EHF EURO 2008

Where are they now? - Part 6 - Siarhei Rutenka, top scorer at the EHF EURO 2006

Where are they now? - Part 5: Olafur Stefansson, MVP at the EHF EURO 2002

Where are they now? - Part 4: Jackson Richardson, MVP at the EHF EURO 2000

Where are they now? - Part 3: Daniel Stephan, MVP at the EHF EURO 1998

Where are they now - Part 2: Talant Dujshebaev, MVP at the EHF EURO 1996

Where are they now? - Part 1: Magnus Andersson, MVP at the EHF EURO 1994


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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