PREVIEW: Hungarian teams looking for a golden finish at the upcoming Beach Handball EURO in Croatia
Defending women’s champions ring the changes on the sand
They came from nowhere to beat the whole continent, not once, but twice, and, in 2017, the Hungarian women’s national beach handball team will be looking to make it three-in-a-row in Zagreb later this month as they defend their 2013 and 2015 EURO titles.
Only Russia before them (2002 and 2004) have defended the women’s EURO title and now Hungary has a chance to make history and become the only women’s team to win three editions running.
After a heart-breaking bronze medal penalty shoot-out loss against Norway at the 2016 IHF World Championship on home sand, the Hungarian women’s squad have a new head coach, new technical panel and new players.
"This is my first spell as a beach handball coach,” said the freshly-installed Botond Bakó, who replaced Janos Groz. “We have only just started with new methods and are doing things in a new way.
“Five or six key players from the 2016 squad are missing so we needed new players and that's why we decided to look for them in the indoor game – I have worked many years as an indoor coach and now I can profit from these good connections with the teams.”
Despite the two different handball disciplines being foreign sports to each other in some countries, there is a good relationship between indoor and beach handball in Hungary so the future appears to be bright.
Bakó has warned the players not to overthink too much as they make their first steps on the sandy road, stressing the need to just enjoy the game and play as good as they can.
One new player in the squad is Szabina Tapai, a former Women’s EHF Cup Winner with Hungarian side Cornexi Alcoa. Tapai was working as an ambassador at the 2016 IHF Beach Handball World Championship in Budapest where she revealed she had only played the game twice, when she had first started her career, but a lot has changed in 12 months.
"He was my coach at my indoor team, Fehérvár and we had familiar opinions where I could fit in,” said Tapai about joining the national beach team. “We have had a short preparation with a totally new squad but I think we can bring a new style into beach handball.
“We are building a new team, a new era,” she continued. “I’m their ‘mother’ so I need to help them and our goal is to play as good as we can - and enjoy it."
Like the women, the men’s side also narrowly missed out on a medal in previous years at a beach championship when they lost their bronze medal match on penalties against Ukraine at EURO 2015 in Spain.
But the Hungarian men are dreaming bigger for Croatia as they hope to win their first medal in a EURO since their bronze in Larvik, Norway in 2009 and like the women, their hearts were broken as they also lost their bronze medal match at the 2016 World Championships on home sand, losing 2-1 to Qatar after penalties in Budapest.
"We have been training for three weeks,” said Hungarian men’s head coach István Gulyás who has lost László Nahai and Péter Hajdú to injury.
“The preparation is a little bit busier for us because the tournament will be held earlier this year, but I think we had a good one and have a strong team too,” he continued. “Now they are older, better and more experienced, thanks to last years’ world championship.
“But we still needed to improve our shoot-out accuracy as well as focussing on turning situations into better outcomes."
Key player András John acknowledges that the two important players will be missed in the team but has faith that the squad can adapt.
"László Nahai is a really good goalkeeper and Peter Hajdú is a key for our defence,” he said. “It will be a difficult task to replace them, but Bence Zakics joined us and we changed our style of defence.”
According to teammate Attila Kun all the teams in Croatia are very closely matched and the fight to qualify for the 2018 IHF Beach Handball World Championship in Sochi, Russia will be intense.
"If we have a clear mind, stay together and play as good as we can, we will have a chance to win a medal,” said Kun. “With that result, I will be a very happy man.”
TEXT: Balazs Szalkai / amc
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