A decade ago, at the first ever EHF EURO to be hosted by Austria, Filip Jicha was the big star. The Czech was top scorer and MVP of the tournament, and the EHF EURO was the start of an incredible season in which he also won the VELUX EHF Champions League with THW Kiel, became the top scorer of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, and was named IHF World Player of the Year 2010.
Now the 37-year-old came back to Vienna for the EHF EURO 2020 – but in a different function. The former left back now coaches THW Kiel, the club which made the most impression on his playing career.
Jicha watched the main round group I matches on Thursday and Saturday, ahead of returning to Kiel to start training on Monday – although many of his squad are still part of the EHF EURO 2020.
ehf-euro.com: Back in Vienna, which emotions come up looking back 10 years?
Filip Jicha: Great memories, great emotions. I was awarded MVP and became top scorer of the EHF EURO, even though we Czechs did not make it to the semi-finals. I think I dominated and imprinted the tournament, and definitely I was in the form of my life, full of energy.
ehf-euro.com: In 2010 and until 2018, 16 teams were part of the EHF EURO, now we see the first final tournament with 24 teams. What is your opinion of the extension?
Filip Jicha: It is a very interesting format now. Eight more nations have the chance to compete with the best. This is good for European handball, and definitely we saw and still see many thrilling matches.
ehf-euro.com: Some potential favourites such as France or Denmark were eliminated after the preliminary round. What happened?
Filip Jicha: Of course this was a surprise. I am sure that the change of format was the reason, because a team like France always starts weak, but then clearly improve from match to match. Now they could not cope with the new system and the fact that only two teams proceeded to the main round.
ehf-euro.com: France were beaten by Portugal, as well as Sweden later. Are the Portuguese team the biggest surprise for you?
Filip Jicha: They are absolutely no surprise. When people say Portugal is not a handball nation, this was maybe right 20 years ago, but not today. The development started in the younger age categories, in which Portugal took great results. Now the senior team is ready and experienced enough to show performances like they do here. Their clubs are really strong now, proved by our home defeat in the Champions League against FC Porto. Therefore, Portugal are anything but a surprise – and they will continue improving in the upcoming years.
ehf-euro.com: Which other teams surprised you most?
Filip Jicha: To be honest, my Czech team making it to the main round. The coaches Daniel Kubes and Jan Filip do a great job; facing teams such as Spain, Germany or Croatia now is a deserved reward for the boys.
ehf-euro.com: What tactical developments have stood out for you at the EHF EURO?
Filip Jicha: Unfortunately, one which is not good for handball. The rules, and the interpretation of the rules, do not reward those teams which have a strong defence. The weaker opponent can play too long, I would have hoped for many more passive play decisions by the referees. But this development is not new, it is the same in Germany or the Champions League. The weaker team can play two minutes in attack to finally wait for a foul.
ehf-euro.com: How do you like the new technology used to support the referees like the video replay?
Filip Jicha: This is absolutely good and brings handball ahead. I would even go further to give the coaches – like in tennis – the opportunity to call for a video replay too, once or twice per half-time.
ehf-euro.com: Who are your favourites for the semi-finals?
Filip Jicha: Even before they beat Germany on Saturday, Croatia were a favourite for me in the group in Vienna, and I am sure Spain will follow them. In the Malmö group, Norway look strong, but Portugal and Slovenia are strong hunters.