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Romania seek ‘surprise’ EHF EURO berth

EHF / Adrian Costeiu

Long gone are the days where Romania men’s national team won four world titles as well as a silver and three bronze medals at Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, Romania are looking for their first qualification for a Men’s EHF EURO event in 25 years. Each time after 1996, the team have failed to qualify, hitting a low in the last six years with defeats against Finland and Kosovo. Not even Barça ace and two-time EHF Champions League winner Xavi Pascual, who led the team between 2016 and 2018, could turn the tide.

Yet Romania still hold an outside chance in the EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers, sitting second in a tough group featuring Sweden, Montenegro and Kosovo with two matches outstanding: against Sweden on Wednesday 28 April at 17:00 CEST and in Montenegro on Sunday 2 May at 18:00 CEST (both matches live on EHFTV)

“Things must be reformed from the bottom up. If we do qualify for the EHF EURO, it would be a surprise, because we are facing a tough situation, where a performance is just something we need to embrace,” head coach Rares Fortuneanu said.

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Fortuneanu, 42, is a product of Romanian handball, but he left his country in 2004, spending the next nine years in the French league, at Saint-Raphaël Var Handball. After retiring he became an assistant coach for Saint-Raphaël, taking the lead in 2019 replacing his former head coach, Joël da Silva.

“As a coach, I am a product of French handball and my hope is that I can implement a sort of change in the Romanian national team,” he said.

“If you asked me after the first two games in the group, I would have said I am on the correct path. But these games against Kosovo followed, so I am not so sure now,” added Fortuneanu with an analytical mind.

Indeed, the 2022 qualifiers sum up Romania in a nutshell: A commanding win against Montenegro (36:27) and a narrow loss against Sweden (33:30) looked to breathe new life into the Romanian side.

Then came the downfall: A 23:23 draw against Kosovo in Pristina was swiftly followed by a devastating 30:25 home defeat, when Romania missed several key players due to Covid-19 positive tests.

“We will not talk about the Kosovo games, because this is a wound that is still open and I will like to focus on the future and what we need to do to proceed to the final tournament in Hungary and Slovakia,” Fortuneanu said.

“From my point of view, we are the underdogs in both games, a position I very much like to be in, I think it suits us and plays in our advantage.”

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Romania have not been in this position for a long time, which can add pressure to a young and unproven team, with many players still plying their trade in the domestic league.

The lack of experience could be seen against Kosovo, where must-win games turned into a failure, seriously derailing Romania’s drive towards their first EHF EURO since 1996.

There are players like Mihai Popescu, who also plays under Fortuneanu at Saint-Raphael, Bidasoa Irun’s Dan Racotea, or Chambery’s Demis Grigoras, but 17 players from the current roster are still in the Romanian league, only four of which have crossed swords with the best, playing for reigning champions Dinamo Bucuresti.

First of all, it is all about the players. They need to find that hunger to become even better and better. Showcasing themselves at the highest of stages, the EHF EURO, could play into their hands in making the next big step.
Rares Fortuneanu
Romania men's national team head coach

Therefore, Fortuneanu has a big challenge on his hands, facing two crucial games for the future of Romanian handball.

“First of all, it is all about the players. They need to find that hunger to become even better and better. Showcasing themselves at the highest of stages, the EHF EURO, could play into their hands in making the next big step. Only playing between the best can make them even stronger and earn them transfers to good European leagues,” Fortuneanu said.

And it all boils down to the matches again Sweden and Montenegro next week.

“Right now, there is a lot of work to be done for us to improve. It might be the start of something beautiful, an emergence of the Romanian side, but also a blip on the radar, a random performance which will not be backed up by others to come,” Fortuneanu said.

If Romania were to pull off a surprise, “it would mean everything to me and the team,” the coach said.

“But we also need to look at the future. Undoubtedly, the need for change is overwhelming.”

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