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28.12.2017, 11:15
Austria bring hundreds of fans and a young leader to Croatia
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EHF EURO TEAM COUNTDOWN #5: Coach Patrekur Johannesson’s Austrian side count on Nikola Bilyk to lead the team at Croatia 2018, two years before they co-host the EHF EURO 2020
 

Austria bring hundreds of fans and a young leader to Croatia

For the third time after 2010 (ninth position as hosts) and 2014 (11th) Austria have made it to an EHF EURO final tournament. Being one of three joint hosts for 2020 (with Sweden and Norway), Austria have high hopes of a strong performance to promote the home event.

After several key players have retired from the team, like playmaker Victor Szilagyi and goalkeeper Nikola Marinovic, a new generation of players carry the hopes in the squad of Icelandic-born coach Patrekur Johannesson.

The final two tests will be against the Czech Republic on 5 and 7 January.

At the EHF EURO, Austria have been drawn in a tough group with World Championship finalists France and Norway as well as the aspiring Belarusian squad.

Roster

A pool of top talents is the core part of Austria’s transition. Led by THW Kiel left back Nikola Bilyk, who was the youngest player at the World Championship 2015 at the age of 17, others like left wing Sebastian Frimmel shall be the future stars.

Frimmel, whose father also was a national team player, will take the role of THW Kiel’s Raul Santos, who is recovering from a torn ACL and very likely to miss the EHF EURO. He has been named on the 28-player list, but has not been been nominated for the final preparations.

One main question: who will replace goalkeeper Marinovic? Currently young Kristian Pilipovic is ahead of experienced Thomas Bauer.

Another crucial point is whether Gerald Zeiner will be able to fully replace Szilagyi. Right wing and penalty expert Robert Weber is still the main scorer. There have been no major surprises in Johannesson’s squad.

Attack

Austria can count on two counter attack experts - Frimmel and Weber - and two sharpshooters on the left and right back - Bilyk and Janko Bozovic - but lack a mastermind on the playmaker position.

Zeiner is rather a breakthrough expert then a leader of the match. So maybe Bilyk will take this mastermind’s role from the left back. Another talent of the 1994 generation is line player Wilhelm Jelinek, who will mostly share this position with powerful and experienced Fabian Posch.

A major advantage of the Austrian attack is that most of the key players play or have played together at the Fivers or Westwien, and know each other very well.

However, Bilyk needs to be on a high in Croatia, otherwise it will be tough for the Austrians. But the 21-year-old youngster already proved in qualification that he can stand the heat.

Defence

Since the end of Marinovic’s international career, the goalkeeper position has sometimes been a problem. Pilipovic, Bauer and Goran Alexic all lacked consistency, though Pilipovic seems to be most consistent.

The middle block of the Austrian consists of tall and powerful players, and Weber is strong on the wing or as a sweeper when the defence changes from 6:0 to 5:1.
Johannesson has different options in defence, but sometimes his core defenders are a bit too tough and receive too many suspensions.

The youngsters need to adapt to the systems of the Icelandic coach. None of the teams that qualified for the EHF EURO 2018 have conceded more goals (186) in the qualification phase than Austria, who even finished with a negative goal difference of -10.

Coach

Since nearly a decade, Austria have been counting on Scandinavian coaches. First on Dagur Sigurdsson, who later steered Germany to the EHF EURO 2016 title. Then on Magnus Andersson (Sweden). And now on Sigurdsson’s fellow Islander Johannesson, a close friend of the World Coach of the Year 2016.

Johannesson was a highly experienced player, mainly in defence, before gaining experience on the bench. He applies classical Icelandic tactics with a lot of speed, combined with tall back court shooters. Under his leadership, Austria qualified for the EHF EURO 2014 and the World Championship the following year. His contract has been extended until 2020 as it is still Austria’s biggest dream to qualify for the Olympic Games for a second time after their debut in Berlin in 1936.

Outlook

It will be hard for Austria to make it to the main round. The match against Belarus is supposed to be the crucial one for the third position. Young Nikola Bilyk has to carry a huge responsibility, but the last month in Kiel has proved that he is able to do it.

Without Santos, Austria are lacking a decisive factor. If the goalkeepers are on their high, the EHF EURO 2020 co-hosts might be able to cause a surprise, but maybe the tournament in Croatia comes too early for the rejuvenated squad to make it to the main round.

Definitely, this tournament will be crucial for Austria to gain experience. And definitely, they will have the biggest support from the stands in Porec as hundreds of Austrian fans will accompany the team.

The 17 players selected by Austria for the Men’s EHF EURO 2018

Goalkeepers: Thomas Bauer (Massy Essonne), Kristian Pilipovic (RK Nexe)

Left backs: Alexander Hermann (HSG Wetzlar), Christoph Neuhold (ASV Hamm-Westfalen), Romas Kirveliavicius (HSC Coburg 2000)

Left wings: Sebastian Frimmel (SG Handball Westwien), Tobias Schopf (UHK Krems)

Centre backs: Gerald Zeiner (HC Hard), Lukas Frühstück (Bregenz Handball), Nikola Bilyk (THW Kiel)

Line players: Wilhelm Jelinek (SG Handball Westwien), Tobias Wagner (HBW Balingen-Weilstetten), Lukas Herburger (HC Hard)

Right backs: Janko Bozovic (Sporting Lissabon), Thomas Kandolf (Handball Tirol)

Right wings: Julian Ranftl (SG Handball Westwien), Robert Weber (SC Magdeburg)


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew / ts
 
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