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09.12.2013, 12:13
Dutch women's national team voted 'Heroes of the Year'
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NEWS REPORT: The victory against Russia in the European play-offs for the World Championship 2013 impressed a nation and made it look forward to the team's performance in coming months and years
 

Dutch women's national team voted 'Heroes of the Year'

The Netherlands' women's national team felt like heroes in June after their stunning play-off victory over handball powerhouse Russia that sent them through to the World Championship 2013 in Serbia.

Now, the Dutch women officially are heroes.

The team has been voted 'Heroes of the Year' by readers of the leading national sports magazine “Helden” - the Dutch word for heroes.

A truly remarkable achievement for a handball team in a country where sports fans mainly go mad about ice skating, football or cycling.

The award came as a real morale boost for head coach Henk Groener’s team as it was announced just two days before the Netherlands' opening match in Serbia against the Dominican Republic (44:21) on Saturday.

The Dutch girls were getting ready at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam to board their plane to Serbia when suddenly well-known former TV presenter Frits Barend and his daughter Barbara Barend, who also works as a sports reporter for Dutch television, appeared on the scene.

The Barends jointly founded “Helden” magazine four years ago.

“Surprised by @fbarend and @barbarabarend at Schiphol. Voted Heroes of the Year”, back court player Estavana Polman posted on Twitter.

Her team fully deserved the award. "We are a good, young team that plays fast and agile handball," Polman said. “We have leaders on and off the field and get along together really well. If we can give our best in Serbia, we are able to beat any opponent."

Polman injured her ankle during a preparation tournament in Norway last month and might miss her team's opening matches.

At that friendly event, Netherlands defeated Russia again, proving the victory in June was not a one-off, much to the delight of the Dutch handball federation (NHV).

"The federation is obviously very pleased with the team’s strong performances," NHV chairman Tjark de Lange said.

"We are working hard to get this team to the highest possible level. It was great how these girls upset Russia so we can see them in Serbia now."

Netherlands want to improve on its rather disappointing 15th place at the 2011 World Championship in Brazil. Regarding the recent form of his team, head coach Groener is confident of having a good run in Serbia.

Besides the Dominican Republic, opponents in Group A include South Korea (against whom they lost 26:29 on Sunday), France, Congo and Montenegro.

"We definitely want to reach the Last 16. From then on, everything is in the open as these are knock-out games, just all or nothing," said Groener, who recently extended his contract with NHV to 2016.

The Dutch federation is working on plans to get the team together fulltime for a whole year in the build-up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The men’s volleyball team followed the same strategy for the 1996 Summer Games – and returned from Atlanta with a gold medal.

Matching that feat in 2016 would make the women’s handball team even bigger heroes.


TEXT: Eric Willemsen / ts
 
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