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Emerging nations eye spot in EHF EURO qualifiers

20221106 AH 3577 2 EHF / Adrian Costeiu

The first steps on the road to the Women’s EHF EURO 2022 are taken this week when qualification phase 1 (preview) will be played.

A total of 11 teams, divided into three groups, are vying for the first place in their respective group to announce to the EHF EURO 2022 starting in October 2021.

While familiar faces like Portugal, Greece, Italy or Faroe Islands are at the start, two side are making their comeback to this level, and even one who will break their duck in the competition.

Latvia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have already dipped their toes into this qualification phase before – with mixed results, yet they will re-emerge as foes in Group B, where they face Italy and hosts Greece.

For Cyprus, this will be their first try in this phase, as their best result so far has been a fourth place in the EHF Challenge Trophy in 2010.

Cyprus’ women’s team might have found new ambition from the nation’s recent success in men’s handball, where Sabbianco Anorthosis Famagusta reached the EHF European Cup semi-final.

The ambitions are high, but in women’s handball, Cyprus are still an emerging country, trying to grab the spotlight from the fringes.

Their debut in qualification phase 1 of the EHF EURO 2022, in Group A, will feature tough clashes against Portugal, Kosovo and Luxembourg, teams whose mettle has been already tested in the previous years.

“We might be a bit ambitious, but we are eyeing the second place in the group. We know Portugal are a very strong side and Kosovo and Luxembourg have far superior experience than our side, but we will try and win games in this weekend’s tournament,” Cyprus coach Constantinos Constantinou told eurohandball.com.

With a young side, beefed up with experienced players, which plied their trade in the Greek and Cypriot championships, Cyprus are the still the underdog in such a tournament that requires the proper level of knowhow in navigating a three-day arduous schedule.

“After 30 years of waiting, we thought it was time to try and see where we are in women’s handball, therefore we gave it a shot in this qualification phase,” said Charalambos Lottas, president of the Cyprus handball federation.

“We had success with Anorthosis in the men’s EHF European Cup and we want to promote and strengthen handball’s future in Cyprus in all categories.”

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Latvia have been long earmarked as an emerging handball nation in Europe. The men’s side had their maiden major-tournament appearance at the EHF EURO 2020.

The women’s side, however, is taking the long road, having not been close yet to securing a place between the top nations in Europe.

In fact, their last shot to qualify for the European tournament was in 2008, which ended with four losses against Italy, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

Latvia are now back to qualification phase 1 after 14 years, encouraged by their third-placed finish at the IHF/EHF Women’s trophy in 2016.

Latvia lost a friendly against Estonia 35:24 last week but the mood is rising as the rebuilding project is taking its due process – and time.

“These girls are pioneers and, even if they fail, they deserve support and praise. That must be our goal, that the new players see an opportunity to play for the Latvian national team is a huge motivation. We have the material, but we have to work hard to have a professional base,” Latvia coach Marik Cibulskis was quoted on the national federation’s website.

The Latvian side is an interesting mix of young players, who are just emerging in domestic clubs SK Latgols and Stopinu NHK, while also adding veterans, like 46-year-old Ivita Asare and 44-year-old Lana Nikolajeva.

While a plethora of injuries possibly marring Latvia’s chances, the games against Italy and Greece will really test the team. The clash with Bosnia and Herzegovina will truly show how far the Baltic side has come.

We might be a bit ambitious, but we are eyeing the second place in the group. We know Portugal are a very strong side and Kosovo and Luxembourg have far superior experience than our side, but we will try and win games in this weekend’s tournament.
Constantinos Constantinou
Cyprus women's national team head coach

Like Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina are making their comeback after a 14-year hiatus in the mix for a place at the EHF EURO.

The Bosnian side recorded two wins in this phase of the competition for the EHF EURO 2008, against Israel and Greece, but also won the IHF/EHF Women’s Trophy in 2018 following a last-gasp 27:26 win against Belgium in the final.

Young backs Helena Curic and Adelisa Dautovic, who were the top scorers in the IHF/EHF Women’s Trophy three years ago, are still in the squad, as Bosnia will try to spring a surprise or two in Group B.

The winner of Group A will advance to group 5 of the qualifiers, where they will face Spain, Hungary and Slovakia. Group B’s winners will progress to group 3, where reigning world champions Netherlands, Germany and Belarus await.

Group C, which features the Faroe Islands, Finland and Israel, will send its winner to group 2 in the qualifiers, with Denmark, Romania and Austria as opponents.

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