Great unity the key for success
Six months after the EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia, a childhood dream will come true for Martin Straňovský, when the Slovak left-winger will start playing for FC Barcelona Intersport, after signing a three-year contract.
But before then, the 26 year-old former Slovak handball player of the year wants to play a leading role with his team at the EHF EURO 2012. Straňovský (currently playing for Ademar Leon) hopes to be able to surprise their top-class opponents, as he states in this interview with ehf-euro.com.
ehf-euro.com: In your preparation matches, Slovakia beat France, but then you were smashed by France - what do those results mean for Slovakia concerning their EHF EURO campaign?
Martin Straňovský: The first match against France was great - everything was going our way, and our back players were playing very efficiently. The French players, on the contrary, were struggling, and many of their shots were either saved by Rišo Štochl or just went wide.
Our main problem in the second match was the absence of our injured playmaker Csaba Szücs. We couldn’t find the rhythm in the offence and the French players were punishing us with counter attacks.
We lost by 19 goals, our worst result ever, but we still remember our trip to France positively because we managed to beat the Olympic champions on their soil. It confirmed that we are able to play against any team in the world, and under certain circumstances, we can beat them.
ehf-euro.com: You are known to be a counter attack specialist - is this the tactic your team will play in Serbia?
Martin Straňovský: That might well be true. Like most of the teams, we’ll try to have a well-secured defence and I think we have the right people to guard the line. Our pivots can play really hard and make life more complicated for our opponents. If Štochl adds some solid goalkeeping, we can succeed. However we are not travelling to Serbia with big eyes.
ehf-euro.com: How do you rate the opponents of your Preliminary Round group?
Martin Straňovský: It’s impossible to meet or choose an easy opponent at an EHF EURO, and our group confirms that. Poland has a very balanced team, with strong players at each position. Almost all of their guys play in the Bundesliga.
The same goes for Denmark. I really admire their system of play - they always finish their attacks on the wings and perform some really dynamic play. They have great goalkeepers too!
Serbia, in front of their own fans, will be an enormously tough task as well.
ehf-euro.com: What chances do Slovakia have in Serbia?
Martin Straňovský: We dream about surprising at least one of our opponents, but we respect the strengths of other teams and know how difficult it is going to be. On the other hand, we really feel that we can play good games against the top teams and I hope we will not be a disappointment to our fans.
ehf-euro.com: Is it a realistic objective to hope for the Olympic qualification tournaments?
Martin Straňovský: This is hard to say. If we want to dream about the qualification tournament, first we have to proceed from the preliminary group and then we have to finish among the first eight to ten teams.
I think all sportsmen dream about participating at the Olympics, and we’ll try to do our best to achieve this goal. You never know what might happen in Serbia!
ehf-euro.com: You're playing in Spain - how important is international experience for your national team?
Martin Straňovský: It’s very important. Playing abroad in the leagues like the Bundesliga or the Asobal gives players an opportunity to develop and grow further. I wish we had more players in these top European competitions, but on the other hand, we managed to defeat France with half-a-dozen players from the Slovak Extraleague.
Despite the fact that the level of our domestic competition is lower than in Germany or Spain, we still have some promising players there, such as Rábek and Kopčo. My personal international experience is not essential for the team, since I’m a winger, and therefore not orchestrating our play.
ehf-euro.com: How did the team cope with the weak result in Sweden, and then improve for the EHF EURO qualification?
Martin Straňovský: I have to admit that I still can’t understand why our team played so poorly at the last World Championships. And I doubt any of us have a clue about that.
We started with a great match against Poland, but lost by a narrow margin. After that, we struggled for the rest of the group phase, even against teams such as Chile. We desperately wanted to achieve better results, but it was just not working.
After we moved to Kristianstad for the placement matches, somehow the problems disappeared, and we won both matches. We continued these good performances in the EHF EURO qualifications by beating Sweden.
ehf-euro.com: What is the current standing of handball in Slovakia? And how big is the interest in the EHF EURO?
Martin Straňovský: I think that our results of recent years, and also playing regularly at major tournaments, has helped to raise the profile of handball in Slovakia. When we finished 10th at the World Championships 2009 there was a small handball boom comparable to the ice-hockey fever we’d experienced in previous years.
We cannot compare handball interest against that of football and ice-hockey in our country, but despite a disappointing campaign in Sweden last January, we still managed to attract almost 10,000 people to our final qualification match against Montenegro in Košice in June.
I’m sure some people will come to Belgrade to support us, as it’s not too far away from Slovakia. Maybe we’ll also have some additional support from many ethnic Slovaks living in northern Serbia, as we had something similar in Osijek at the World Championships 2009.\
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TEXT: Mark Hegedues