The Netherlands made their inaugural EHF EURO win look simple, as they cruised to an eight-goal victory against Latvia having neutralised the Baltic defence and blocked their opponents' attempts to attack.
- in their first-ever EHF EURO, Netherlands gained their first points
- it was the fourth victory of the Netherlands against Latvia in now five matches
- it was the first victory for any of the three debutants at the EHF EURO 2020
- the Netherlands' Kay Smits was top scorer for his side and was awarded player of the match
- Dainis Kristopans again shone for Latvia with seven goals
Latvia vs Netherlands 24:32 (10:16)
The Netherlands started in express mode, and were much too quick for the Latvians – even the early time-out of coach Armands Uscins at the score of 5:9 did not stop the downswing. Backed by the early goals from Iso Sluijters, who scored six goals in total, and saves from Gerrie Eijlers, the Dutch team took a quite comfortable cushion to the dressing room, being six goals ahead.
Icelandic-born Dutch coach Erlingur Richardsson’s match plan worked perfectly. The Netherlands’ counter attacks and a movable defence were the key to their clear advantage, along with the fact that they kept Latvian giant Dainis Kristopans to only one goal before the break.
Only Nils Kreicbergs, who scored four of his five goals before the break, managed to challenge the Dutch defence in the first half. The Latvians even missed two penalty shots in the first 30 minutes, saved by Eijlers and Bart Ravensbergen.
But as the neutral fans among the 5,942 spectators in the Spektrum found their heart for the Latvians, Uscins’ team – mainly Kristopans – improved their attacking efficiency. Goalkeeper Edgars Kuksa also backed his team with some impressive saves and the gap had melted to 15:18.
Finally, the Dutch side decided the game thanks to their small, versatile players such as Kay Smits, who was named player of the match thanks to his seven goals, or Luc Steins, who found the gaps in the tall Latvian defence.
The Netherlands will next face Spain on Monday, with Latvia playing their last preliminary match against Germany.
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) January 11, 2020
Uscins said he thought his team had perhaps wanted the win too much.
"The deficit was not so big but against such an opponent that was too much. We thought it would be a 50:50 game but we made too many mistakes, which is why we lost," he said.
A delighted Steins said the Dutch had played "exactly how we wanted to" - fast, with a strong defence.
"We tried many things defensively and everything worked. We could feel that the Latvian players were getting a little frustrated and that also helped us. It motivates you when you feel that you’re doing something right," he said.