The Austrian players were exhausted and disappointed, but the sight of their president waiting in the mixed zone helped bring smiles back to their faces after the 22:34 loss to Germany in their penultimate match of the EHF EURO in Vienna Stadthalle.
Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen attended the game on Monday and talked to the players afterwards.
“It was a huge honour for us that he took such a long time. This highlights the new value of our team and our sport in Austria,” says Bernd Rabenseifner, Secretary General of the Austrian Handball Federation.
“The EHF EURO 2020 in Vienna and Graz was a huge success for Austrian handball so far, in terms of organisation, spectators, entertainment, promotion and media coverage. Now we hope that we can finish the tournament successfully in our final match against Belarus,” adds Rabenseifner, before the final match on Wednesday.
Although his team lost all of their main round matches against Germany and the semi-finalists Spain and Croatia so far, head coach Ales Pajovic is impressed by their performances.
“We played an outstanding tournament. Now we have to keep our heads up for the match against Belarus, when we want to pay back to our fans for the great support they gave to us,” Pajovic says.
Austria still can reach their best ever EHF EURO ranking position – ninth at the EHF EURO 2010, also played in Austria – if they beat Belarus to finish eighth.
“I really hope for those two points, but even if we lose I’m proud, as we made huge steps ahead in the development and for the future of our team,” adds Pajovic.
— A. Van der Bellen (@vanderbellen) January 20, 2020
Handball fever grips the nation
Away from the sporting perspective, Rabenseifner says he has been impressed by the enthusiasm the Austrian public has shown for handball.
“We were on prime time of our public TV channel ORF 1, we were on the front pages of the major newspapers every day. The interest in handball by the Austrian public was really huge for two weeks,” Rabenseifner notes.
“One of our main goals was to make handball more attractive for Austria, and we definitely reached it. Of course you cannot have a successful event without a successful home team, therefore proceeding to the main round and then facing world class teams was a core part of the success,” he adds.
Rabenseifner says the team of volunteers and the entertainment crew helped generate an “impressive and extraordinary atmosphere” in the arena.
Recently appointed Austrian sports minister and Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler fully agrees.
“I was so happy that my first public event in my new position was at the EHF EURO,” Kogler says. “I am definitely infected by this new handball fever in Austria. Handball is booming and handball caused an outstanding atmosphere.”
In the summer, European handball will return to Austria, when Innsbruck will be joint host of the U20 EHF EURO together with Brixen in the South Tyrol part of Italy.
Austrian Handball is also in the race for the Women’s EHF EURO 2024, bidding together with Switzerland and Hungary. The Extraordinary RHF Congress will decide on Saturday in Stockholm, whether Austria, Switzerland and Hungary; Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic; or Russia will host this event.
“We want to bring Austrian women’s handball on as we did with the men’s, hosting the EHF EURO events in 2010 and now,” concludes Rabenseifner.