Spain ride the Gurri wave to the semi-finals
When the Spain men’s team won back-to-back titles at the EHF EURO in 2018 and 2020, it was their defence that carried the heavy load, with the attack swiftly delivering in crunch moments.
Usually, top players are nurtured in the same environment and with the same mentality in the younger age categories, but at this edition of the M20 EHF EURO, the emerging generation of ‘Los Hispanos’ are looking totally different.
Spain have made it in the semi-finals for the fourth time in the last five edition of the competition — and it looked easy, especially in the attacking department.
Scoring 186 goals in five games — an outstanding average of 37.2 goals per game — they lit up every defence they faced, even against Portugal in their only defeat in the competition, 35:36, in the last match of the preliminary round.
Key responsible for these amazing attacking numbers is proficient back Jan Gurri Aregay, who is Spain’s second top scorer in the tournament, with 25 goals, after right wing Antonio Martinez Llamazares, who scored 30 times.
20-year-old Gurri is the prototype of a modern back, who can shoot but also dazzle the defence with amazing breakthroughs, proving impossible to stop at times.
“I watched a lot of handball when I was little and I always loved Ivano Balic, I think he was an amazing player. From the current crop of players, I like Ian Tarrafeta,” says Gurri.
His superb games earned plaudits even from top Spanish players, like Antonio Garcia Robledo, a two-time EHF EURO silver medallist, who labelled Gurri as “unstoppable”.
“It is truly humbling to hear this. I think it is amazing, really. Antonio is my teammate at Fraikin BM Granollers and I learnt a lot from him and from my coaches there. I owe them a lot,” says Gurri.
A constant upward trend
The centre back, who can also play as a left back, has already earned plenty of experience, having donned Granollers’ shirt for the last three seasons in the Spanish league, where he scored 81 goals in 73 matches. His improvement was on display both at club level and for the junior national team, where he has been a focal point of the attack.
I watched a lot of handball when I was little and I always loved Ivano Balic, I think he was an amazing player. From the current crop of players, I like Ian Tarrafeta.
“I must say we are pretty happy about how this competition has turned out for us. These are the best teams in Europe and any misstep can truly take you out of the competition. But we made it through, we lost a single game and we are dreaming higher and higher now,” says Gurri.
“We knew that we could lose a game and still qualify [for the semi-finals] and we knew that it could be the one against Portugal. Unfortunately, we lost it in the last seconds, by a single goal, but we proved we are good and we bounced back immediately, won against Denmark and Hungary and qualified for the semi-finals.”
Indeed, Spain did not dwell on that loss and delivered some great attacking performances, especially in the game against Denmark, a powerhouse of their own at this level, jumping to a clear 40:34 win.
Therein lies the question: Is this a generation that will change the Spanish handball, bringing another brand of the game?
Gurri’s answer leaves no shadow of a doubt: “It is beautiful to score a lot of goals — it is a lot of fun to do that. But, as they all say, defence wins championships. And we are really here to win the title, which would be an amazing feat.”
It would be Spain’s third title at the M20 EHF EURO, after the ones in 2014 — when they were led by Ignacio Plaza Jimenez and Miguel Sanchez Migallon — and 2016, with a generation featuring Daniel Dujshebaev, Aleix Gomez Abello and Kaudi Odriozola.
But first, a showdown against Serbia, who lost a single game on their way to the final weekend, awaits.
“They are a very good team, I will not lie. Serbia can cause us a lot of trouble. But we are prepared and, like I said before, it would be a dream to be in the final and fight for the title,” concludes Gurri.