MVPs Batista and Conceição showcase depth of beach handball
The EHF Beach Handball EURO 2023 in Nazaré ended Sunday with Germany (women) and Hungary (men) winning gold. The best individual players were Spanish legend Asun Batista and Portuguese youngster Gabriel Conceição – a contrast that underlines the positive development of beach handball.
Right after the awards ceremony at the EHF Beach Handball EURO 2023 in Nazaré on Sunday, Asun Batista carries around a wooden scale model of a fishing boat – the prize every All-star Team member receives.
In fact, Batista holds a boat in each hand: she has been named MVP and is the top scorer of the women’s event with 136 points.
Asked if she already has an idea where to put both trophies in her living room, Batista laughs.
“I don’t know if I have enough space, but I will try to give them a nice place,” says the pivot of Spain, who has been instrumental in her team’s run to the bronze medal.
Batista, who in full is called María Asunción Batista Portero, is undoubtedly the biggest star of Spanish women’s beach handball. She is the player that creates the most danger on the opponents’ side of the court but is also the best shot blocker in the team’s defence. Especially her saves in various shootouts have been crucial for Spain in reaching their fourth semi-final in the last five editions of the Beach Handball EURO.
Spain again fail to reach their first final, but come away with another bronze – their third after 2017 and 2021. In an Iberian derby, Spain edge hosts Portugal in, again, a shootout in the third-place match: 2:1 (19:18, 12:18, 7:2).
Now that I am getting older, I never thought that I could do as well as I did. I am so excited, and so proud of my team – what I am, I am because of them, so I am happy for that.
“Now that I am getting older, I never thought that I could do as well as I did,” says Batista, who turns 30 in September. “I am so excited, and so proud of my team – what I am, I am because of them, so I am happy for that.”
Her role as the undoubted team leader fits Batista.
“It is really nice because my teammates follow me. So, it is great that I can be that for them,” she says.
Being a leader on the sandy court not always comes down to age and experience, as Gabriel Conceição proves. The Portuguese allrounder is still only 18 but has left established names like Martin Vilstrup Andersen behind him in the 24-hour voting, in which more than 4,000 handball fans casted their votes and picked their favourite players for the All-star Teams.
“It means everything. Portugal worked a lot towards these (championships), so being awarded with the MVP is amazing,” Conceição says while showing his boat.
“It is really incredible, my first big tournament, I can’t even explain it,” he adds.
Conceição’s breakthrough in a senior championship is remarkable regarding his age, but not unique. Among the six MVP nominees were other young talents like Victor Paldanius, who won the Men’s 17 EHF Beach Handball EURO two years ago, leading Sweden with 133 points.
Paldanius, who turns 19 in June, could not avoid Sweden’s early exit from the medal race in Nazaré, as his team failed to make the main round.
Success is what Conceição certainly has had with Portugal. Fifth place from two years ago was their best finish coming into their home tournament, but they started by winning their preliminary round group, including a 2:0 win over eventual champions Hungary.
We made history, both with the men’s and the women’s team. We have to enjoy ourselves now, keep working for the next competitions. It will only get better.
Arguably Portugal’s finest hour came in the quarter-finals, where they upset Spain in a shootout to enter the semi-final for their best Beach Handball EURO result. Defeats against Hungary (2:1) in the semi-final and two-time champions Denmark (2:0) in the bronze medal game saw Portugal finish outside the medal ranks – but still on an all-time high.
Remarkably, Portugal women’s team also reached their first semi-final – and also ended up in fourth.
“We made history, both with the men’s and the women’s team,” Conceição says. “We have to enjoy ourselves now, keep working for the next competitions. It will only get better.”
The only stain on Conceição’s tournament is missing the decisive shot in the semi-final shootout against Hungary. His MVP award does not make up for that, he admits.
“No, it doesn’t compensate it,” Conceição says. “It just happens in beach handball. I missed a shot – next time, I won’t miss it.”
photos © Jozo Cabraja, Jure Erzen / kolektiff