Austria is co-hosting the Men’s EHF EURO for the second time in a decade, and their appearance in 2020 marks their fourth appearance at the final tournament since their first in 2010.
With new coach Ales Pajovic and backed by the fans in Stadthalle Vienna, they hope to make it to their second ever main round, facing Ukraine, North Macedonia and the Czech Republic in group B. One star carries the hopes of a nation on his shoulders: Nikola Bilyk.
Three questions before the Men's EHF EURO 2020:
- How important is the home advantage?
In 2010, Austria hosted the Men’s EHF EURO for the first time. They achieved their best result, finishing ninth, one place ahead of neighbours Germany. This tournament was the starting point of the most successful era in Austrian handball.
The team, headed by players such as Viktor Szilagyi, Patrick Fölser and Robert Weber, raised the nationwide interest in handball. Now Austria can build upon this base and hope that their fans can push them to another spot in the main round and perhaps a record high ranking.
- What did new head coach Ales Pajovic change?
From 2008 until 2019, Austria was led by Scandinavian coaches: first Icelander Dagur Sigurdsson, then Swede Magnus Andersson, followed by another Icelander, Patrekur Johannesson. Three-time EHF Champions League winner Ales Pajovic arrived in March 2019. The Slovenian international won silver at EHF EURO 2004 and knows Austrian handball very well, as a player and as a coach.
Pajovic has not changed the squad that much, but strengthened the defence, seeking to cause more turnovers to score more easy goals. And with his positive thinking he added confidence. So far, his leadership has not been tested under pressure with only a few matches played, including four EHF EURO Cup games and three friendly encounters. The EHF EURO on home ground will be his first stress test.
- Can Nikola Bilyk become one of the EHF EURO stars?
Since 2014, Nikola Bilyk’s star has been rising. He was the youngest player at the 2015 World Championship in Qatar, he could choose between Kiel and Barcelona to start his international career on club level – and now, at the age of 23, he is already the leader of the Austrian team on home ground. In four seasons at Kiel, he has learnt to take responsibility and was a key player when winning the EHF Cup Finals on home ground last season, proving that he can stand the heat when the pressure rises.
Under the spotlight: Thomas Bauer
The handball globetrotter has finally settled down. After playing for 10 clubs in four countries, now the 33-year-old Bauer is a key player for VELUX EHF Champions League side FC Porto Sofarma. Bauer has succeeded the legendary Nikola Marinovic as Austria’s number one goalkeeper and, due to his experience at European club and international level, is set to become a core figure during the EHF EURO.
The main round is the main goal for the hosts, who had a lucky draw, facing the Czech Republic, Ukraine and North Macedonia. With the support from the stands in Vienna the berth for the next stage looks quite manageable.
“It looks easier than in other groups, but all opponents are dangerous, we have to give three times 100 per cent to proceed,” said line player Tobias Wagner.
Czech Republic and North Macedonia were also two of Austria’s opponents at the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark. While Austria beat the Czechs 30:20, they were closely defeated by the Macedonians, 22:21.
What the numbers say
In total, the 28 players of the Austrian provisional squad have 1,239 international matches and 2,614 goals on their tally. The most experienced player is wing Robert Weber with 175 matches and 764 international goals.