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Portugal to chase more EHF EURO glory

EHF / Tiago Nogueira

Portugal opened the year on a high note as the team finished sixth at the Men’s EHF EURO 2020 in Sweden, Austria and Norway.

It was the highest rank for the South European nation at any major event, improving by one spot from their 20-year-old previous best result - seventh at the EHF EURO 2000 in Croatia.

Following their magnificent performance in January, Portugal will try to match or even improve their achievement in 2022.

However, before dreaming big again, they obviously will have to qualify for the finals tournament in Hungary and Slovakia.

Striving for another milestone

Israel, Iceland and Lithuania are the opponents in group 4 of the EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers, which start on Wednesday when Portugal are hosting Israel in Matoshinhos (live on EHFTV at 20:30 CET).

On Sunday, Portugal travel to Lithuania for their second qualifier (live on EHFTV at 15:00 CET).

Interestingly, the third team in the group, Iceland, have become regular opponents for Portugal in recent times.

They played each other in the main round of EHF EURO 2020, where Iceland won 28:25, while the teams are set to also meet at the World Championship 2021 in Egypt in January, when Portugal will strive for another milestone, as their best finish so far has been 12th in 2003.

“We will focus on what we have to improve”

For Portugal head coach Paulo Pereira, “improving” is the watchword heading into the EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers.

“We want to regain our way of playing in order to start qualifying for the European Championship well. We will focus our attention on what we have to improve in order to be closer and closer to the best teams,” Pereira said.

A lot has changed since Portugal’s successful January, with the Covid-19 pandemic affecting life on and off the courts.

“At this moment the best players will be those who have the greatest capacity to adapt to this new reality, either individually or as a team. Whoever is able to be aware of this will have a better chance of succeeding,” the coach said.

“Israel are on the right track”

The track record of their first opponents in the qualifiers can’t match Portugal’s achievement: Israel only qualified for an EHF EURO once before, in 2002, and ended up losing all three group matches in the preliminary round.

Still, Pereira is wary of Israel’s strengths.

“I believe they are on the right track. Some young players play in Germany and France and are playing an excellent role in the teams they are part of,” said Pereira, adding that Portugal would need to prepare well for Wednesday’s game as Israel are “an extremely fighting team.”

No major tactical changes

Portugal themselves are on the right track, as well, and no major tactical changes are expected when the team head into their EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers this week.

Portugal will switch to playing 7x6 regularly again, though according to Pereira, it is just another solution for the team as long as it is profitable.

“We are aware that we play well in this offensive format. However, we know that we cannot depend on it alone to increase our performance,” he said.

While Portugal want to continue their upward trend, Pereira was clear about his ultimate goal as national team coach.

“Winning a medal in the next competition,” said Pereira, displaying the enthusiasm and ambition that characterise the current Portuguese national team.

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