Great Britain return and dare to dream once again
It has been two years since Great Britain put a team on a handball court, and a further 10 years since they have graced qualification for the IHF World Championship.
But the men from Great Britain are back after having been hit with some funding speedbumps, and with the chaos the Covid-19 pandemic presented their organisation.
The young squad wants to kickstart their new cycle in phase 1 of the European qualification for the Men’s IHF World Championship 2023, which will be streamed live on EHFTV. Great Britain were drawn to a formidable group with Estonia, Georgia, and hosts Finland (preview) – a tough test that the side will welcome with open arms after their frustrating hiatus.
While the Covid-19 pandemic hit the whole handball community hard, no nations were probably harder hit than the emerging ones. With organisations often relying on one or two primary sources of funding and international players from these emerging nations frequently subsidising their own training camps and trips abroad – it was an extraordinarily testing time with all the uncertainty the pandemic offered.
“After the Emerging Nations in 2017, where we finished in 11th, we started what we hoped could have been a four-year cycle. Due to Covid-19, that cycle was halved and culminated with fourth place in the Emerging Nations in 2019. That marked a clear step forward. Unfortunately, that cycle ended prematurely, and we are now forced to re-start,” stated head coach of the Great Britain squad, Ricardo Vasconcelos.
A significant impact came earlier in the year when funding was granted by UK Sport, which – combined with continued fundamental support from the International Handball Federation and the European Handball Federation – allowed the re-establishment of Great Britain selections in all age groups and genders.
Above all, it eased the financial burden of self-funding such international handball endeavours.
“(Progress) is only possible if we have the chance to expose our players to the level of competition that we want to achieve and to do it regularly. And it is with this motivation that we are entering the upcoming qualification. It is one more step of the process that will, hopefully, take us to the next level,” continued Vasconcelos.
It is often easy to overstate the London Olympic Games’ impact on the sport throughout the British Isles. While it did act as a significant catalyst in some ways, the hard work behind the scenes after the Summer Games, when the hype died down, is often understated.
“The reality is that from grassroots to performance, the last 10 years have seen a steady increase in the quantity-quality ratio of the British players.”
The Great Britain squad is a healthy mix of this homegrown talent, often from their ‘Elite Performance Academy’, sprinkled with players who were made aware of their eligibility through the ‘Play for GB’ campaign.
It suits us to be realistic. More than status, what is important for us is to have a clear understanding of where we are after two years of inactivity.
Sebastien Edgar, who plays for Käerjeng in Luxembourg and was the overall top scorer with 66 goals of the IHF Emerging Nations 2019, is representing Great Britain once again. The 30-year-old Edgar came into the fold back in 2008 and featured in the 2012 Olympic Games and EHF EURO Qualifiers.
Such critical experience, mixed with the likes of new talent Francisco Perreira, who plays his handball for Füchse Berlin’s young second team, will be a big boost for the side. Perreira obtained his dual Portuguese-English nationality last June.
Furthermore, Great Britain-based players such as Chris White (Livingston) want to build upon a strong outing in the IHF Emerging Nations 2019; notably, White came through the ranks having represented GB at U18 and U20.
The full Great Britain squad for the tournament in Finland is available here.
However, head coach Ricardo Vasconcelos will have his work cut out attempting to have this group gel.
“The entire group will only be together, for the first time in two years, on the day before the first game, unfortunately. Although we had a few preparation camps based in the UK, the travel restrictions made it impossible to have the players based abroad in our camps,” Vasconcelos said.
“We have a very young team, with a few players that will be representing GB for the first time, so we are very excited to see how they react to this level of opposition.”
This Great Britain side is well aware of their underdog role heading into this week’s ties in Finland.
“It suits us to be realistic. (...) More than status, what is important for us is to have a clear understanding of where we are after two years of inactivity; (…) Being able to be competitive, play ‘eye-to-eye’ and playing without being afraid of having our vulnerabilities exposed,” Vasconcelos said.
“It is key to be able to develop and define bigger and better goals. That is the process we can’t evade or deviate from, and all of this requires patience and support from everyone involved.”
Their first opponent, Georgia, are no strangers to this GB team having faced them in the past two editions of the IHF Emerging Nations with the Georgians getting the upper hand on both occasions.
But when the Great Britain flag is flown once again internationally, a huge victory for this side has already been achieved before a ball was ever thrown.