While Netherlands have been one of the leading nations in women’s handball for years, the Dutch men’s team is finally getting their share of the limelight.
The Men’s EHF EURO 2020 will be their first major event in nearly 60 years. In fact, the World Championship 1961 is still the only finals tournament they previously took part in.
Working with an interesting blend of talent and experience, the Dutch team’s Icelandic head coach Erlingur Richardsson will guide a squad that is hungry to climb the ladder of international success.
Three questions before the Men’s EHF EURO 2020:
- Can Netherlands advance to the main round?
Sharing a group with the last two European champions - Spain (2018) and Germany (2016) - doesn’t exactly make for an easy first phase of the competition. But any group in the preliminary round would have been tough for Netherlands, who lack any experience at major events. A top-two finish in group C, which also includes Latvia, would be a huge upset.
- Is it an advantage to meet Latvia again, a team Netherlands defeated in the qualifiers?
Having beaten your opponents the last time you met is certainly a confidence booster going into a match. The 25:21 win in the decisive qualifier in June 2019 proved that the Dutch are capable of beating Latvia. At that time, however, Dainis Kristopans & Co had already secured their EHF EURO 2020 berth, so circumstances are definitely different when both teams meet again in Trondheim on 11 January.
- What type of handball can fans expect from Netherlands?
Agility is probably the best word to summarise the Dutch game. Quick movement and fast play are key elements in coach Erlingur Richardsson’s philosophy with the team, where pure physical strength is not the main attribute on several positions. Look at centre back Luc Steins: 174cm and 69kg. Previous Dutch team coaches judged he was too small and too light to be a top international player, but Richardsson gave him a chance, and was repaid: Steins, also excelling in the French league for Fenix Toulouse lately, has developed into a leading force for the team over the past two years.
In the spotlight: Fabian van Olphen
At age 38, one of the best Dutch handball players of all time can add a late and unhoped-for highlight to his career. Fabian van Olphen ended his national team duties years ago. Under previous head coach Joop Fiege he returned in a kind of stand-by mode, but he had not been called up in the past two years since Richardsson had taken over. However, after they had qualified for the EHF EURO, players and staff asked the former SC Magdeburg captain to consider a comeback. Initially reluctant to replace someone in the squad who did play the qualifiers, he finally agreed. So Van Olphen cancelled a family ski holiday and will put on the orange jersey in January, giving the Dutch team much-needed experience and stability.
Qualifying for a major championship is what Netherlands have been fighting for a long time, some team members even more than a decade. They will be fired up to make the most of this opportunity. Or, as right wing Bobby Schagen said right after they had beaten Latvia in the decisive qualifier: “I have been with the team for 10 years now, always focusing on this one goal. Finally we go the EHF EURO. And we deserve to be there if you see our results against renowned handball nations.”
What the numbers say
Eleventh. That is the position where Netherlands finished at the World Championship 1961, their only previous major tournament. In order to do better this time, Erlingur Richardsson’s team must advance to the main round - a tough ask. The comparison between the two events, however, is not really fair: at the worlds in 1961 only 12 teams were competing, at the EHF EURO in 2020 it will be twice as many.
At the World Championship 1961, Netherlands played their first match against Germany. At EHF EURO 2020, they will open against their neighbours again. Almost six decades ago, Germany recorded a resounding 33:7 win, so the Dutch team will definitely aim for a very different outcome on 9 January in Trondheim.