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24.10.2014, 14:50
Lajos Mocsai: "It’s the national teams that really count"
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INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: Hungarian handball coach Lajos Mocsai, who was the last to steer Hungary to gold at a Women's EHF EURO, speaks about the upcoming EHF EURO 2014, his winning team at the 2000 event and the status of women’s handball
 

Lajos Mocsai: "It’s the national teams that really count"

Lajos Mocsai has led Hungary’s men’s and women’s national team, amassing more than 350 matches that he stood courtside in his career.

After Hungary’s men’s team failed to qualify for the World Championship 2015, he stepped down as men's coach and decided to focus on his academic career – he had been an associate professor for many years –, recently applying for presidency at the University of Physical Education in Budapest.

However, his interest in handball never decreased and his opinion is still highly valued.

ehf-euro.com met Mocsai, aptly nicknamed Mr. Professor, for an interview on the upcoming Women’s EHF EURO 2014 in Hungary and Croatia, the Hungarian women’s team from 2000 which Mocsai steered to gold and the current status of women’s handball.

Handball around the world

The 60-year-old believes the fact that handball is nowadays played around the world helps the sport improving, its organisation and sponsorship, with all three components raising the level of the sport.

"Dominant national teams come and go but the overall balance of women’s handball is more stable than that of men’s," Mocsai says.

"Some would say the long-lasting dominance of Norway (in women’s handball) is gone but they are traditionally strong and no one would be surprised if they won the EURO.

"It is nice to see teams rising, such as world champions Brazil, because their success means handball is well spread around the entire planet."

When it comes to the Women’s EHF EURO 2014, being played in Hungary and Croatia from 7 to 21 December 2014, Mocsai refrains from naming a favourite, saying that competition is tough and the tournament potentially even more balanced than its male counterpart.

"Just like at World Championships, there are different handball cultures clashing at European Championships, and I cannot be more thrilled to experience it in Hungary and Croatia.

The fast, defence-based approach of the northern European nations and the aggressive swing of the east Europeans will provide us with a spectacle handball fans rightfully expect from the tournament."

14 years is a lifetime in handball

Mocsai led he Hungarian women’s national team to the top of Europe in 2000, making him the last coach to achieve such a feat in Hungary, but he reckons a lot has changed since then.

"I had a magnificent team in 2000, I could name all my players for their contribution in winning the EURO in Romania, but if I can just name one, it would be my ‘general’ Bea Kökény, who was a leader of our team on and off the court."

Back in these years the Hungarian team was truly a dominant force in women’s handball, also reaching the final of the 2000 Olympic Games and the final of the World Championship 2003.

"I was blessed with a fair amount of great teams throughout my career and cannot say that the 2000 women’s team was the best, but it was surely one of the best.

"I had a great combination consisting of young talents’ verve, the routine of established stars and individual brilliance of some outstanding athletes.

"But in the end it is always the team that prevails over personal skills and it is the staff’s responsibility to put one’s individual strengths at work for the team,” summarises Mocsai.

Tournaments to qualify and to experiment

‘Mr. Professor’ opines that the EHF EURO 2014 might give a chance for national teams to experiment.

Only the winner of the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 qualifies directly for the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio de Janeiro – the long-term goal of the majority of Europe’s women’s national team – while the majority of places at the Olympic qualification tournaments will be awarded at the World Championship 2015 in Denmark.

"We shall see a fair amount of experimenting and new faces," predicts Mocsai.

While testing new players, tactics and re-thinking the overall approach to handball may be necessary from time to time, Mocsai says in Hungary it is a lot more complicated than in other countries as the expectations are always sky-high.

"Due to the public expectations, Hungary always have to show their very best.

"There is no room for experiments unless they come hand in hand with results. If they don’t, the tournament is considered as a failure no matter how much the team improves."

This to a certain extent demands a constant presence among Europe’s top team, something that Mocsai is critical of.

"It is an extremely elaborate task (for any coach) to build in young players. Gaining precious routine is obtained with the burden of responsibility on their necks, which is kind of unhealthy," he says.

What to expect from Hungary at the EHF EURO 2014?

According to Mocsai Hungary have an up-and-coming team that will have extra motivation thanks to the frenetic support of the Hungarian fans on home court.

Although the preparation was far from ideal, Hungary stand a fair chance to reach the semi-finals according to Mocsai.

"The tragic death of Karl Erik Böhn put the team to a very difficult situation. The World Championship 2013 could have been a dress rehearsal for the EURO but when positive news came about the treatment of the Norwegian coach the Hungarian Handball Federation decided not to appoint a new coach but wait for Böhn to fully recover.

"The World Championship, as far as a possibility to build a team for the EURO was concerned, was wasted when Böhn passed away it was a double shock for Hungarian handball."

However, Mocsai has been knowing Andras Nemeth, the current women’s coach, for a long time and believes despite the short time available, Németh has to built a true medal contender.

"This Hungarian team is compact, united and very motivated. Its basic game plan is well-drilled and prone to be effective in most cases as one of their most important strengths is creating chances.

"They may have some weaknesses, there are playing positions at which they don’t match the top teams but Andras Németh is working to conceal these drawbacks."

As Europe’s top teams are a finely balanced group, Mocsai finds it hard to predict how far Hungary could go in the tournament, but he thinks the fans’ euphoria will get the team through hard moments.

"I think it would be a respectable performance from Hungary to reach the semi-final. From then on it will be all about actual form, stamina and ability to soak up pressure," says Mocsai.

Clubs vs. national teams

Mocsai is happy with how Hungarian handball is advancing at club level but fears club success might have a negative impact on the national teams.

"The best teams collect the best players who either get limited playing time or play all the time and are wiped out by the time they have to put in an equally high-level performance at the national team.

"There are more and more matches, which take time away from national team preparations. There is a shift in preferences."

Mocsai, however, still thinks it is the national team that really counts.

"It is the top. National team tournaments are the most important of all both for players and fans.

"For players there is nothing more important than playing for their respective countries. And I believe this is the way it should be."


TEXT: Bence Martha / ts
 
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