Türkiye keep captain Cemal Kütahya in their hearts

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EHF / Björn Pazen

When the Turkish players came on court in the Arena Coque in Luxembourg for the team presentation on Wednesday evening, it all got very quiet in the hall. Samet Kanberoglu, the new captain, stepped forward with the number 42 shirt, holding it during the anthem.

It was the jersey Cemal Kütahya wore. But the 32-year-old and his five-year-old son died in the devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria on February 6, with their bodies found in the ruins of their house in the city of Antakya.

In October, Kütahya captained his team in the first games of the EHF EURO 2024 qualifiers against Portugal and North Macedonia. He was also one of the best players in the Turkish beach handball team.

During the warm-up on Wednesday, all Turkish players wore T-shirts with the names of Kütahya and all the Turkish cities that were destroyed by the earthquake. During the anthem and the minute of silence, everyone in the hall saw how much the team is still mourning. On Sunday, the captain will be commemorated with a big ceremony before the second leg against Luxembourg in Konya, Türkiye.

With some luck, the Turkish team finally won 30:29 in Luxembourg, securing their first two points in the EHF EURO 2024 qualification.

"This victory of course is for Cemal, we are sure that he watched the match from heaven above and was happy with us," said Kanberoglu, adding: "Cemal is always with us, always in our hearts. When we were in the dressing room, we all looked at his shirt and realised once again how much we miss him. We are still in shock.”

For coach Hulusi Okan Halay, the training camp before the qualifiers was the worst.

"All the players were in shock, we constantly kept thinking about Cemal, mentally it was sometimes unbearable. He was such a great character, a great person, an outstanding captain. We miss him incredibly, it's hard to describe,” Halay said.

Ugur Kilic, president of the Turkish Handball Federation, was with the team in Luxembourg, and his feelings were also clear.

“Those were very emotional moments for the team today. Of course we are happy that we won this game, our thoughts were and are always with Cemal and his family. It's all a very, very difficult situation. We will never forget Cemal. Our team stuck together during this difficult time,” Kilic said after the match.

But everyone also knows that life has to go on somehow, although Kanberoglu added: “We will always play for Cemal.”

The Luxembourg Handball Federation initiated a special donation campaign for the victims of the earthquake, together with UNICEF.

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