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18.06.2015, 15:42
US Ambassador crosses fingers for FYR Macedonia at EHF EURO
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INTERVIEW: Jess Baily, US Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia, had watched his first live game of handball only in May, but when he was told the Macedonian EHF EURO 2016 Qualification was going down to the wire, he knew he had to return
 

US Ambassador crosses fingers for FYR Macedonia at EHF EURO

Last Sunday, among the 6,963 spectators at the Boris Trajkovski in Skopje for the EHF EURO 2016 qualifier between FYR Macedonia and Czech Republic, there was a man whose native country one usually does not associate with being a handball stronghold.

However, for Jess Baily (pictured left), US Ambassador to FYR Macedonia since December last year, it was out of question to miss the game that the national team had to win, if they wanted to qualify for the EHF EURO.

"I had seen handball on television when I was a student in France in the late 1970s, but I attended my first match – France versus Macedonia – in April, as a guest of the Macedonian Handball Federation," Baily tells ehf-euro.com.

"The match was close and featured some fast, talented players.  Macedonia lost that night to the world champions, but my hosts said the group play would come down to Czech Republic versus Macedonia. So I had to come back."

The match on Sunday was again a closely fought one, with Czech Republic taking an early lead before FYR Macedonia bounced back and eventually secured a 32:28 win that granted them to ticket to Poland.

For Jess Baily, who plays tennis and squash, likes skiing and running and admits to being a die-hard fan when it comes to baseball ("I can tell you more than you want to know about the Cincinnati Reds"), it was an experience he is not likely to forget.

"The atmosphere was charged, with a lot of spirit and noise, lots of yellow and red including a flag that literally covered half the crowd when the national anthem was played," he says.

"The game was tight, with some fantastic goals and Macedonia surging forward at the end of the first half with great leadership from Kiril Lazarov, and then hanging on.  Quite a few people were biting their nails."

FYR Macedonia’s next step towards the EHF EURO 2016 is the final tournament draw which will take place in Krakow this Friday (14:30 hrs CET, live stream on www.ehf-euro.com).

The team has been seeded in Pot 3 alongside Russia, Germany and Belarus.

And courtesy of their Sunday performance FYR Macedonia they not only gained a ticket to the final tournament but also gained a new fan.

"Апсолутно!  (eng. Absolutely!)," he responded in Cyrillic in his written statement to ehf-euro when being asked whether the team can count on him crossing his fingers, when they take to the court in Poland next January.

Photo courtesy of Petr Stojanovski / Utrinski Vesnik daily


TEXT: EHF / ts
 
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