“The man is a genius.”
It might sound like exaggeration, but when a soft-spoken player like Andreas Palicka says those words about an opponent, then you should pay attention.
Of course, Andreas Palicka and Andre Schmid will be opponents only on Friday, when Switzerland meet hosts Sweden in the first game of Group F in Gothenburg. But the two players have been plying their trade for the same club, Bundesliga powerhouse Rhein-Neckar Löwen, since 2016.
And who can better know Schmid than a player who faces him each day in practice and is instructed to do anything he can to stop his shots?
Now aged 36, Schmid is back at the EHF EURO after 14 years, after Switzerland’s failure to qualify for the tournament for the past six editions.
There is little experience at the highest level of competition outside Schmid in the Swiss team, but with seven players from the Bundesliga and two from the French Starligue, Switzerland could spring one or two surprises.
“I know that Switzerland is famous for watches and chocolate, but we are here to play on the biggest stage and show that we are the real deal,” says Schmid.
The draw has not been the kindest for the Swiss team, who are in a group with Sweden, Poland and Slovenia. Switzerland have won only one game out of the 12 previously played at the EHF EURO – beating Ukraine 25:22 in 2004 – but Schmid is still upbeat.
“We are not here as tourists. We play the hosts in front of 12,000 fans and that will be a big ask. Every team will be tough to break, but we want to go to Malmö and play in the main round,” adds the Swiss stalwart.
No vacation this time
In 2006, Schmid was a 22-year old centre back who was on the verge of breaking into handball’s elite.
Since then, the playmaker was named the best player in the Bundesliga for five consecutive seasons between 2014 and 2018, and won two titles and the Men’s EHF Cup with Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
Now, he will needs to prove himself once again for the national team.
“It is a big achievement for us, we fought hard in the last years for this and progressing to the final tournament is a big step for Swiss handball. It is also important for me, now I am 36 years old and we are back on the big stage,” adds Schmid.
Back in 2006 Schmid scored 11 goals, but Switzerland failed to progress from the group phase, where they lost against Poland and Ukraine and drew against Slovenia.
They will meet Poland and Slovenia once again at the EHF EURO 2020 in Gothenburg.
“The last couple years, when the EHF EURO or the world championship were taking place in January, I was on vacation and watched my teammates,” says Schmid. “Now I can participate and that shows I am good enough for this level. It is also a new step for me, I am not nervous, I am an old guy.”
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Not the last rodeo
The Swiss star brands himself as a normal player and challenges his teammates to step up to the occasion.
“I have to play well. Many guys are talking about me, but I am a normal player, there are also 15 other players here who can make plays and surprise their opponents,” says Schmid.
Will the EHF EURO be Schmid’s national swan song? He took a break from the Swiss team a few years ago before making a comeback. However, Schmid thinks there is still a future for him at this level.
“Is this my last EHF EURO? No, I don’t think so,” says Schmid, with a full-blown grin on his face.
“I plan to play at least two years at this level and maybe help Switzerland qualify once again for 2022,” he concludes.