The ‘family’ reaching for the top
Three years ago, Sabbianco Anorthosis Famagusta was just an idea; a dream in the making in some minds; a plan on paper to create a strong side in Cyprus — one which could dominate the domestic league and improve the level of the Cypriot handball in Europe.
Cyprus are by no means a handball powerhouse, on a national team level or on a club level. Their teams have not progressed from the Last 16 phase in the Men’s EHF Challenge Cup over the past 10 seasons.
However, Sabbianco Anorthosis Famagusta look like they have the recipe for something special on their hands. It may be the exciting mix of experienced Greek and Cypriot players and young guns ready to emerge on the big scene, or the heart on their sleeves mentality often shown by teams in this part of Europe. There is only one other nation represented in the team: Brazilian Bruno Oliveira Rodrigues has scored three times this season.
But the results speak for themselves. In the inaugural season of the EHF European Cup Men, Anorthosis won four double-headers against more experienced teams to clinch an otherworldly semi-finals berth against Swedish side Ystads IF.
While Czech side TJ Sokol Nove Veseli, Turkish outfit Beykoz BLD SK and Austrian team SC kelag Ferlach were huge challenges for the Cypriot side, the true test came when they met strong Romanian team CS Minaur Baia Mare. Anorthosis duly delivered, progressing to the next phase of the competition after a 45:45 aggregate draw thanks to the away goals rule.
“To be honest, for Anorthosis, a small team coming from Cyprus, which was created just three years ago, this season is like a dream to us. The European games were just a bonus to us at the start of the season, which had winning the domestic league as the main objective,” says Anorthosis captain Julios Argyrou.
“The sky is the limit for us now and we became better and better as players and as a team as the season progressed. We did believe we can win any game we started and this was our secret this season.”
Plenty of experience to choose from
The 36-year-old centre back knows a thing or two about great seasons in European competitions, after reaching the final of the Men’s Challenge Cup with AEK HC three seasons ago. The Greek outfit lost the final double-header against Potaissa Turda, 59:49, but the experience strengthened Argyrou.
As he is reaching the zenith of his career, Argyrou is motivated to lend a hand to build a successful team at Anorthosis for the long term.
“Our team has laid the foundations and I believe this team has a future in the next years, with the correct moves. It is a huge challenge for our team, but we are here to overcome any obstacles,” concluded Argyrou.
It is a thought seconded by the team’s coach, Georgios Zaravinas. The former left wing knows the taste of silverware, after being part of the first Greek side to win a European trophy. Zaravinas scored 26 goals in the 2011/12 season for AC Diomidis Argous, who took a superb 46:45 aggregate win against Wacker Thun in the final of the Challenge Cup.
“We tried to create a team in which everyone feels like a family, mostly by choosing Cypriot and Greek players, plenty of whom are young and motivated. We are truly a family,” said Zaravinas, before the double-header against Ystads IF.
Biggest challenge brings no pressure
The gulf between Cypriot and Swedish handball is huge. And on paper, Ystads are overwhelming favourites, boasting players like Kim Andersson, a three-time EHF Champions League Men winner with THW Kiel and a silver medalist at the Olympic Games in 2012 with Sweden, and Dalibor Doder, part of the Swedish national team between 1998 and 2012.
Yet the Cypriot side are upbeat and will fight until the last second to fulfil their dream. They take enormous pride in their club motto, Mono Korifi, which roughly translates to “Only at the top.”
“We are not thinking about qualification right now. For us, participating in Europe is a gift. There is no pressure for us — we only want to bring to the game everything we know as a team,” says Zaravinas. “Everyone knows how difficult this is. Swedish handball and its tradition are very well known. But we represent something big as a team and as a country and we will fight for every possibility to win.”
With Cypriot handball previously on a downward trend, both financially and with results dwindling, Anorthosis’ antics this season are a breath of fresh air. They are leading the domestic league, still undefeated at this time of the season, and have turned the tables by progressing to the semi-finals of the EHF European Cup Men.
“Our team, irrespective of the discipline, is born to lead,” says the team’s president, Andreas Andreou. “We are a family and we want to win, therefore, this makes us challenge for greatness. We must improve in each year and we already had some great wins this season — why not add on that?”