Expanding the EHF EURO format from 16 to 24 teams was beneficial for Latvia, who have progressed in recent years and finally managed to book a ticket to a major tournament.
With the towering Dainis Kristopans in their squad, the Baltic team hope to continue their upwards trajectory and record some good results at the European Championship.
Three questions before Men’s EHF EURO 2020:
- Will lack of experience become a big problem?
Latvia have never previously participated in any major tournaments. They were very close to qualifying for the World Championship in 2017, but lost in the play-off matches to Belarus on the away-goal rule. Just like his players, head coach Armands Uscins will also make his debut at this level. Of course Latvia can rely on Dainis Kristopans, who has vast experience in the VELUX EHF Champions League – but playing for your country is different, so lack of experience may become a serious shortcoming during the final tournament.
- Do Latvia have any options if Kristopans cannot play or has a bad day?
Dainis Kristopans is by far the most recognisable player in the Latvian team. It was no surprise that he played a big role in their first ever qualification for the EHF EURO, doing a great job both in attack and defence. The right back certainly deserves to play his first major tournament with the national team at the age of 29, and he can make a difference in the upcoming games. However, opponents will pay special attention to Kristopans, and it is hard to say whether Latvia would have any success if their best player is unable to perform or is sidelined for any reason.
- Could being underestimated by their opponents help the team?
While Kristopans and goalkeeper Arturs Kugis play for Champions League title holders Vardar, most other Latvian players represent humble clubs. Some of them play in their homeland, others wear the colours of second-tier foreign teams. There is a chance that their heavyweight opponents like Germany and Spain may slightly underestimate the Baltic team – which could benefit Latvia.
Under the spotlight: Arturs Kugis
Last season, goalkeeper Arturs Kugis played for TV Grosswallstadt, who were relegated from the second German league. However, his brilliant performance in the EHF EURO qualifiers attracted interest from some bigger clubs. And in the summer, the 27-year-old completed a surprising move to VELUX EHF Champions League winners Vardar, where he joined his national team partner Dainis Kristopans.
“In our group, we have two big handball nations, Germany and Spain. Maybe we didn’t have the luckiest draw, but we have to realise that once you qualify for the EHF EURO, you should be ready to compete with European top teams,” Latvia’s head coach Armands Uscins says.
In group 4, Latvia will again play against Netherlands, who they already faced in the qualification. The teams exchanged four-goal home wins, 29:25 in Valmiera and 25:21 in Almere, but Latvia finished second in the group, two points clear of third-placed Netherlands.
What the numbers say
At 215 cm, Dainis Kristopans is not only the tallest player in the Latvian team, but also one of the tallest in the world of handball.