It has been 14 years since Portugal took part in an EHF EURO. Since then, the country has been waiting eagerly for a comeback, but repeatedly failed to reach the final tournament.
“There were so many times we were so close, but it didn’t work in the end,” says line player Tiago Rocha.
But their time has come. Portugal is among the 24 countries which qualified for EHF EURO 2020 and, arriving in Trondheim, you can feel relief from the Portuguese players that their team is among the best on the continent.
“It feels like a reward to all of us. The difference between now and three years ago is that we are more consistent. Before, we used to have a great game before playing a lot worse in the next one. Now, we can play at the same level every game,” says Rocha.
The Sporting CP line player was one of the first Portuguese players to go abroad to seek some experience. He joined Polish side Orlen Wisla Plock, in order to play the VELUX EHF Champions League, before coming back to his home country in 2017.
“I think this is the key for us, that so many players left Portugal to gain some experience. Handball is really on the way up in Portugal at the moment, A good result at the EURO would certainly help us even more,” adds the experienced player.
And what would a good result be at the EHF EURO?
“We’re not afraid to say we want to progress to the main round,” states the 34-year-old. “And why not? We’re here to prove that we deserve our spot at the EURO and we’ve proven in the past that we can beat almost anyone.”
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France await - again
The first game of the competition will see Portugal play against France, a team that they beat less than 10 months ago in EHF EURO qualification. And while some less experienced players might be scared to make their debut in such an important tournament, the Portuguese players are quite confident.
Maybe it is because a lot of people will be following them at home. The media following in Trondheim is already good, and all eyes in the country will be on the team’s performance at the EHF EURO.
“We represent the country and it gives us a responsibility, a bit of extra pressure, because we want to make everyone proud at home” says Rocha.
Rocha confides that the EHF EURO 2020 will be a special moment for him.
“This is the best moment. I was in the team in 2006, but did not play. To be part of this adventure, with this team, is definitely a highlight in my career,” he concludes.
A win against France in the first round would make it even better.