Three of Austria’s most influential players believe team spirit and the support of their home fans can help propel the EHF EURO 2020 co-hosts into the main draw when the tournament throws off next week.
Captain Nikola Bilyk, right wing Robert Weber and goalkeeper Thomas Bauer spoke live to the EHF via the EHF EURO 2020 app ahead of Monday’s friendly against Germany in Vienna.
The Austrians then get their tournament under way against the Czech Republic on 10 January and, Weber, the veteran of three past EHF EUROs, emphasised the importance of getting off to a winning start.
“The first game is the most important game for us – it’s not just two points, but the possibility to get a good start in the tournament,” the winger of German outfit Nordhorn-Lingen said.
“To win the first game gets you into a good flow for the second game. We have a lot of goals but for us it’s important to focus on this first game before looking too far ahead. We’ll take things step-by-step and hope we can progress.”
The key to youth
At 34 Weber is the longest-serving member of an Austrian squad that has its fair share of youth – none more so than 23-year-old captain Bilyk who is impressing in the VELUX EHF Champions League with THW Kiel this season.
But Weber, who has scored more goals at EHF EUROs for Austria than any other player is embracing being part of a squad blessed with a blend of youth and experience.
“It makes me feel young again!” he laughed. “I’m a little bit older than some of the boys who know each other from playing in the Austrian leagues and have been together at youth level with the national team.
“As an older player I feel comfortable with this young group and I’m looking forward to playing with these guys – it’s a lot of fun.”
Like Weber, goalkeeper Bauer will be appearing at his fourth EHF EURO, with the Austrians aiming to eclipse their best EHF EURO finish of ninth – which took place in Austria back in 2010.
And the FC Porto stopper, who played his 150th match for the national team in October, cannot wait to enter a packed Stadthalle when he lines up against the Czechs for the group opener.
“It’s something every handball player is dreaming of, we will also definitely remember this for a long time – especially if we win the trophy – and we’ll be trying to do all we can to do so,” smiled the 33-year-old keeper.
“It will be an important tournament for all of us – and for my Portuguese colleagues, who are playing in the first European Championship of their careers – so I will have one eye on what they are doing in their group, but the most focus of course is our own performance. We have a great team.”
All Austrian eyes will be on captain Bilyk, whose performances in the EHF Champions League have helped Kiel reach top spot in group B with four rounds to play.
The 23-year-old left-back, who was appointed national team skipper by Pajovič aged just 21, shares his teammates’ ambition of going as far as they can in the competition on home soil.
“It’s exciting, playing a home EHF EURO is something you dream about,” said the left back. “We’re all really looking forward to it and we hope we can be successful.”
On being a young captain, Bilyk added: “It’s sometimes a little bit weird but at the end of the day we all want the same. We want to play good handball and win games.”
Tickets for matches featuring the Austrians, and indeed all nations in action over the next three weeks are still available on the official EHF EURO 2020 website, and remember you can follow every nation’s progress on the official EHF EURO 2020 app.