Now is crunch time for the men’s national team of North Macedonia. After four rounds in Group 3 of the EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers, they are not yet assured of playing at the final tournament in Austria, Norway and Sweden in January.
Sharing the lead with Iceland on five points each, they are one ahead of Turkey and three ahead of Greece going into the last two rounds, where North Macedonia will travel to Turkey on Wednesday (12 June) and host Greece four days later.
Representing his country remains a standout experience for Kiril Lazarov, the second-best scorer in the EHF EURO Qualifiers so far.
“I always feel good playing for my national team and my country. I’m so proud to have worn this jersey for so many years. It’s a special feeling that’s not possible for me to explain,” the right back says.
Lazarov keeps on scoring
All around Europe players are retiring at the moment - like Thierry Omeyer, Laszlo Nagy or Tobias Karlsson. But for the 39-year-old Lazarov the situation is quite the opposite. Having spent the past two seasons with HBC Nantes, the left-hander has extended his contract with the French side.
Lazarov not only carries on playing, he also keeps on scoring. In North Macedonia’s first four qualifiers he netted 30 times. And the team will need more of the same in the last two rounds against Turkey and Greece if they want to earn a berth for their fifth straight EHF EURO event.
“We are in a good position at the moment and I hope we will finish successfully. Turkey and Greece might not be first-class opponents but we must be very serious against them,” says Lazarov, adding that the team must be the “most important thing. We have to grow up and believe in ourselves.”
The 28:26 defeat against Greece in October was one of the big upsets of the current qualifying campaign. And even though North Macedonia might have booked their ticket to the final tournament by the time both teams meet again on 16 June, Lazarov says his team will be just as focused for that match.
“We have to be motivated always in the same way. We want to win this game and we will do everything to do it,” says the all-time EHF EURO top scorer.
Taking an example from Vardar
There is no lack of motivation in North Macedonian handball these days. Coach Danilo Brestovac and his players can take an example from HC Vardar, which last weekend won the VELUX EHF Champions League for the second time in three years.
Players like Stojanche Stoilov, who also wears the North Macedonian team jersey, will still be on a high after lifting the trophy in Cologne.
“I really want to congratulate Vardar, they did a mission impossible,” Lazarov says. “For us as a country, Vardar winning the Champions League is really important because I am sure that handball might become the No. 1 sport in our country in a few years.”
Obviously, qualifying for the EHF EURO would help as well, and Lazarov is ready to do everything to tick that box.