On Monday, a win in the decisive match against Montenegro helped Belarus to finish second in group A and go through to the main round of the Men’s EHF EURO 2020.
Reaching the main round was a priority task for the Eastern European side, so now they feel a sense of satisfaction.
“I can give a big compliment to our team, as I’m very happy with the way we played. We had prepared for the match well and knew what to do on the court. We also kept a cool head and showed character, so our win was deserved,” head coach Iouri Chevtsov said after the game with Montenegro.
Dzmitry Nikulenkau, the 35-year-old centre back from SKA Minsk, seconds his coach. “We knew that we are stronger than Montenegro, but we had to show it on the court. We did well in every aspect – attack, defence and goalkeeping. I can call it a perfect game,” he said.
In Group A based in Graz, Belarus had to face three Balkan teams, and not everything went smoothly as they lost their second match against Croatia, 31:23.
However, Chevtsov’s team beat Serbia in the opening game and Montenegro in the last encounter, scoring 35 and 36 goals respectively.
Mikita Vailupau had a special impact in attack, as the right wing from HC Meshkov Brest scored eight goals against Croatia and seven against Montenegro. In both matches, the EHF EURO debutant was Belarus’ top scorer, and he became player of the match on Monday.
However, Vailupau prefers to focus on team effort.
“It was nice to be honoured like that, but the main thing is that we won by nine goals and went through. Compared to that, my personal award means nothing,” he said afterwards.
Chevtsov also does not want to emphasise the importance of Vailupau or any other player.
“Is Mikita already the leader of the team? It’s up to you journalists to decide. He is a part of our team, but we have 16 players in the squad and two more on the stands. We are the team, and each player can be a key player,” the coach claims.
“The atmosphere in the team is great, we stick together and support each other, and we are trying to reach our common goals.”
Chance of Olympic qualification in sight
Belarus will start the main round against Germany on Thursday, and later they will also face Spain, Austria and the Czech Republic in Vienna.
Chevtsov’s team, who finished 10th at the EHF EURO 2016 and 2018, would now like to take a step forward and – if possible – to book a ticket to the Olympic qualification tournaments.
Veterans Barys Pukhouski, Siarhei Shylovich, Ivan Brouka and Nikulenkau have formed a good mix with leaders of the younger generation such as Vailupau, Artsem Karalek and Andrey Yurynok, which only makes Belarus stronger.
“I think we have the best squad for the last 10 years, and we have enough depth as any player can be replaced without a negative effect of our game,” says captain Pukhouski, who is the best all-time scorer for Belarus at the EHF EURO, with 98 goals before this tournament and a further six so far scored in Graz.
His teammates are looking forward to the main round with optimism.
“Probably Spain will be the favourites, but we will try to beat everyone,” Shylovich says.
Nikulenkau has a similar opinion.
“We can beat Austria and the Czech Republic, and even seriously challenge Germany and Spain,” he believes.
However, Chevtsov prefers not to share any specific expectations.
“Now we’re just happy to have made the first step. The players have lost much energy in these games, so we need to recharge our batteries before the start of the main round,” he concludes.