On Sunday night in Stockholm, Spain became the first team to defend the Men’s EHF EURO title since Sweden in 2002. Overall, it was Spain’s second European title, and fourth major international tournament win, after they took the World Championship gold medals in 2005 and 2013.
Spain’s medal collection from all major international competitions – EUROs, World Championships and Olympic Games – now stands at an impressive 14.
So what has led the ‘Hispanos’ to this success?
A golden generation with huge experience
For several of Spain’s players, this EURO title will be their last. Raul Entrerrios and Viran Morros have said this was their final EHF EURO, while others such as Daniel Sarmiento, Joan Canellas, Julen Aguinagalde and Gedeon Guardiola may be coming close to ending their national team careers.
These players have formed the core of a golden Spain team that won the first EURO title in 2018 in Croatia and the 2013 World Championship on home soil. Entrerrios was the only player of this group not part of the team at the 2013 World Championship. Jorge Maqueda has more years left to play, but has also been around long enough to be part of those successes.
During the EURO 2020 final, these players – along with a great game from goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas – were important in the comeback after Spain fell behind by three goals in the first half. Their experience in finals was crucial.
There will be a significant generational change coming in the Spain squad, but there is hope those to come will be able to repeat the feats of these long-time stalwarts. Alex Dujshebaev is already a key player for the side, and will be for a long time to come.
Barça right wing Aleix Gomez, who was part of the squad that won Spain’s first Junior World Championship trophy in 2017, had an important role in the final. It was he who pulled Spain ahead early in the second half and scored the penalty that opened the door for Dujshebaev to secure a two-goal advantage with 25 seconds to go, deciding the match.
Los (EHF EURO) Expertos
Spain have not only won two EHF EURO titles, but have contested a total of six finals in the event and reached the semi-finals at a further three editions. They have only once missed a medal when playing for bronze, in 2012 – coincidentally, losing to Croatia in that match.
From 2012 to 2018, they progressed one step further each edition. In 2012, they were fourth; in 2014, third; in 2016, second; and in 2018 they ended the wait to top the podium. Their experience in previous finals got them there.
In 14 editions of the EURO, Spain have ranked outside the top four teams only five times. Their record is not as strong in the world championship, where they have reached the semi-finals six times.
Spain – particularly this long-time core of the squad – seem to be experts at playing EHF EUROs. In particular, over the last five editions, they have been the only team in the semi-finals every time.
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) January 26, 2020
The added motivation of Olympic qualification
With the victory, Spain not only celebrated the EURO trophy, but an achievement that was of great importance to the team: direct qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Spain missed the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro based on just one goal in the difference calculation of their Olympic Qualification Tournament (OQT).
Had Spain needed to play the OQT, they could have experienced the same shock for Tokyo 2020 that they did for Rio 2016, when they played the OQT as EHF EURO runners-up and therefore strong favourites to reach the Olympics.
This direct qualification is of particular importance to those members of the team for whom it will be the last year with the national side. Although Entrerrios said the direct Olympic Games qualification was not more important than taking the trophy on Sunday, for all teams, there was more at stake than in a European championship that does not fall in an Olympic year.
Spain certainly had the chance to celebrate more than the title at such a critical point in several team members’ careers in their minds ahead of the last game in Stockholm.
The Jordi Ribera – and Spanish coaching expertise – factor
With the current dominance of Spanish coaches across the world in both international and club competitions, it is clear that a masterful coaching style exists in their nation, and some credit for the team’s overall strength must be attributed to that.
However, it is Jordi Ribera who has been the man at the helm for the consecutive EURO titles. The tactical expert naturally deserves significant praise for his leadership of the team.
Ribera made some selection decisions for the 2018 edition that were seen by some as controversial, as he prioritised the future development of the team and left out the likes of highly experienced Barça captain Victor Tomas. But in the end, Ribera’s choices were validated, as he guided Spain to the historic result.
Ribera succeeded other coaches who had done great work with the Spain team, such as Valero Rivera and Juan Carlos Pastor. Undoubtedly these coaches lay the foundation upon which Ribera has built.
Now Spain look ahead to the Olympic Games as EURO champions. After that, it seems Ribera will have a new task, to continue building what he started when he took the role. But first, Tokyo 2020 awaits the Hispanos.