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21.10.2016, 05:47
Italy dream of qualification for EHF EURO 2020
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THE ROAD TO 2020: With the first qualification phase to EHF EURO 2020 about to start, Italy are determined to grab their chances with both hands to eventually belong to the best 24 handball teams in Europe
 

Italy dream of qualification for EHF EURO 2020

Italy may not strike as a country of handball players, but the team guided by Fredi Radojkovic is slowly and resiliently working hard with the fixed goal of securing an historic first qualification to the EHF EURO 2020.

In two years’ time the event will be hosted by Sweden, Austria and Norway and be played with 24 teams for the first time.

The ‘azzurri’ have competed only once on the main stages of the most prestigious continental competition; and this was in 1998 when the country hosted the event.

However, this was not their only appearance on the international level. These days, it may sound like a surprise, but in 1997 the team overcame Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia to book a ticket to the World Championships in Japan.

With the EHF decision to extend the field of participants for the EHF EURO 2020, Italy are among those teams that could benefit from the door these extra six spots open.

Sharing the optimism

Nevertheless, coach Radojkovic tries to remain grounded less than two weeks before his team plays its first qualification matches, a double-header against Georgia on 2 and 6 November.

“It certainly is a great motivation for us, but for the other teams, too. I’m sure my players know that the possibilities to move to the next round are bigger and it will stimulate them to do even better than in the past, when in the early stages you were sure of facing a top team and hence to stand virtually no chance,” he says.

“This change in the format allows teams that do not belong to the elites of the game in Europe to play a big event like the EHF EURO and I’m sure my players will take the best out of this new system in terms of motivation.”

Pasquale Maione, captain of the squad, shares the same optimism of his coach and likewise sees this a great opportunity for Italian handball.

“It surely is an interesting novelty: it gives bigger possibilities to countries that had few chances of passing the first round with the previous system.

“I don't think our attitude will change much though: we wanted to win before, even against stronger teams, and now it is just the same. Surely, we will be more determined now, because in the first stage we are facing two teams that we know we can match.

“Qualifying for the EHF EURO 2020 would be something outstanding, a dream come true! We will make everything in our power to make it there,” says Maione.

“We know we cannot fail”

Besides Georgia, Italy face Luxembourg in Group C of this first qualification phase. The team eventually ranked first qualifies for the main qualification, starting in 2018. The other two teams get a second chance in the European trophy played in June 2017.

“I think Georgia and Luxembourg aim to obtain the first place of the group just like we do,” says coach Radojkovic. “We are three teams of roughly the same value, for that we have respect towards our opponents, but there is no doubt we want to top our group and qualify for the next stage.”

“We know that we cannot fail the matches against Luxembourg and Georgia,” says Maione.

“We feel great and we want to do well during these qualifications, starting from the first match against Georgia in Siracusa on 2 November. The team will be more or less the same compared to the qualification for the World Championship last year; a mix of experienced players and young guns. For that we believe in our chances and we want to do well!”

Among the youngsters who represent the future of the team, Nicolò D'Antino shone with the under 18 team at the EHF Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Italian team reached the final and D’Antino believes this was a great boost to their confidence as a team.

“Losing the final was disappointing, but we have plenty positives to take from there: we understood that by working hard we can aim for important results. We returned home with confidence in ourselves and in the fact that we can do well in the future,” he says.

D’Antino is now looking forward to playing for his country on the senior level, even more so now that the new formula opens new chances for qualification.

“Knowing that in the future there will be more chances to play the big events is a great motivation for us youngsters. To wear the blue jersey and play to qualify for the EHF EURO, no matter what the format is, is by itself an honour and a big goal for me.

“Then, of course, with more teams qualifying, for us there are more possibilities and this is a great motivation: qualifying would be something grand!”


TEXT: Giulio Gasparin / ts
 
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