Cavalcanti: “This is just the beginning for Portugal”
When Portugal take on Israel in a Men’s EHF EURO 2022 qualifier on Thursday (live on EHFTV at 19:00 CEST), they can secure their place at the final tournament already with a match to spare.
And when they meet Lithuania in their last qualifier Sunday, they might even have a chance to lock up top spot in group 4.
It shows the growth Portugal have gone through in recent years.
Their sixth place at EHF EURO 2020 was their best ever at a European Championship; their 10th place at the World Championship 2021 marked their best result on global level. Add to that another first: their qualification for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
“We have done an excellent job, but this has to be just the beginning,” Portugal left back Alexandre Cavalcanti said. “We always have to keep Portugal in the place it deserves, which is on the major European and world stages.”
In that respect, the upcoming qualifiers against Israel and Lithuania are highly anticipated by Portugal.
“These are two important games in which we have to get at least a point in the first game to ensure our presence at the next EURO. It is the main goal for this week,” Cavalcanti said.
After securing their berth for the final tournament, the focus will be on earning first place.
“In the match against Lithuania, if conditions permit, we will fight for the top spot in group 4,” the left back said.
That, however, will only be possible in case of a slipup from current leaders Iceland.
Both teams are on six points, but Iceland have the better head-to-head result: Portugal won their home game in January 24:22, Iceland hit back a few days later: 32:23.
Still, Portugal’s rise in recent years has been undeniable.
According to Cavalcanti, the strength of the team is in its versatility.
“We have a very versatile team with players with different characteristics in each position. And having several quality solutions, it is easier to maintain the level of play for 60 minutes,” he said.
“The relationship we have between everyone is very good and it ends up being transmitted to the court.”
We have done an excellent job, but this has to be just the beginning. We always have to keep Portugal in the place it deserves, which is on the major European and world stages.
Cavalcanti, 24, was brought up in a family where sports were always present. He spent several years at S.L. Benfica, where he stood out for the Eagles.
He moved abroad, to HBC Nantes, in the summer of 2019.
“I have grown a lot in these almost two seasons. It was the first time that I had the opportunity to play in the EHF Champions League, a goal that I have always had,” Cavalcanti said.
“Not only playing but training every day with high-quality players is very important to grow as a player. This level of competition in all games was undoubtedly an accelerator for my evolution.”
Still, the left back has also met the flip side of an athlete’s career, with ‘resilience’ becoming his watchword.
“I arrived at HBC Nantes to recover from a serious injury to my right foot. A few months later the pandemic came,” Cavalcanti recalled.
“At the beginning of the second season, I had another serious injury to my left foot and it was only a few months ago that I started playing again after being almost a year out.”
He has slightly worked his way back and scored 21 times for Nantes in his first ever EHF Champions League season, including six goals in the decisive 34:31 away win against Lomza Vive Kielce in the play-offs earlier this month.
That win earned Nantes a place in the quarter-final against Telekom Veszprém HC.
“We know that we will face one of the best teams in Europe,” Cavalcanti said. “We have already demonstrated that we are capable of playing against great teams. It would be incredible to reach the EHF FINAL4 in my first presence in the Champions League and that is what we are going to fight for.”