60 minutes away from making history
Never have Switzerland have qualified for a Women’s World Championship, but that could all change on Tuesday evening.
At 20:15 CEST, live on EHFTV, Kerstin Kündig and her teammates can add another chapter to a truly historical year in Swiss handball.
After a 26-year absence, the Swiss men’s team were part of the World Championship in Egypt in January, as a replacement for the USA. Andy Schmid & Co. even made it to the main round. Three months later, the women’s team have their fate in their hands against Czech Republic. On Saturday night, the side coached by Danish-born Martin Albertsen sensationally tied 27:27 away from home with playmaker Kerstin Kündig the top Swiss scorer with eight goals.
“This result was simply sensational. Never before have we been so close to a World Championship - but still we have to say that the Czechs are the favourites, but maybe not as clearly as before the first leg,” Kündig told eurohandball.com the day before the clash at Gümlingen.
In the first leg, the Czechs were ahead only once in 60 minutes, at 27:26, the rest of the time saw Switzerland have the upper hand. “The Czechs are under pressure, we can be quite relaxed, though we feel this special tension all around us,” says Kündig.
Her side had qualified for the World Championship play-offs by winning the qualification 1 tournament after a draw with Belarus and by beating Faroe Islands. “And this time we were lucky with the draw for the play-offs. Two years ago we were drawn against Denmark and had no chance,” says Kündig.
The Thüringer HC player really loves the way her national team has developed in recent years: “We are stable now, we have a structure in our team, we have a certain depth in the squad and the most important thing is that we always act as a team. If one has a weak day, someone else steps in, we all carry the responsibility on our shoulders, it is not like our team has a big star.”
Another positive step on their upward journey is playing abroad: “The Swiss league is perfect for young players to make their first steps quite early, but to get used to an international way of playing and get to a top performance level, you have to go to other countries. The more players play abroad, the better our national team gets,” states Kündig.
The development of the team is closely related to coach Martin Albertsen, who took over the Swiss team in 2018, alongside his job at German club SG BBM Bietigheim for two years and since last summer parallel to leading the Swiss women’s handball academy.
“It is an ideal combination that Martin is head of the academy, mainly by looking upon our main goal, EHF EURO 2024 on home ground. We already have two youngsters coming from the academy in our current squad and they learn the concept and the tactics of our teams, they know how we play, when they join us for the first time.
“You can clearly see how Martin impacts Swiss women’s handball and how our team has developed, for example compared with three years ago, when we had a similar chance to qualify for the EHF EURO in France but lost the crucial home match 33:16 against Croatia,” says Kündig, whose role model is Norwegian World Player of the Year Stine Oftedal.
For the 27-year-old, another reason for the strong performance against Czech Republic was that the players had only been back at their clubs for three weeks after winning the qualification tournament at end of March. “We could continue focusing on the national team and, of course, winning this tournament boosted our confidence.”
Now the atmosphere in the team prior to the second leg is quite relaxed with the players all fit and ready to rumble.
“Unfortunately only 50 fans are allowed in the arena, we would have loved to play in a full arena, but sadly enough, we have already coped with the situation of empty stands.
“We are focused but we need to have our minds free, we should not have any pressure on our shoulders and just remain relaxed,” concludes Kündig.