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“We tear ourselves apart for this”: Handball players are facing a historic European Championship opportunity

“We tear ourselves apart for this”: Handball players are facing a historic European Championship opportunity
Lukas Hutecek is indispensable in Austria’s national team, both offensively and defensively.
Image: APA/EVA MANHART

When you get up in the morning, says Lukas Hutecek, “there are better and worse days”.

One can only imagine how much Austria’s handball playmaker’s musculoskeletal system must be hurting. Offensively, the 23-year-old is both a pacesetter and an enforcer, and defensively he sits in the middle block.

  • Also read: Austria suffered its first defeat in the fifth European Championship game

After Lukas Herburger fell ill, the right-hander even took on the role of head of defense in the 28:33 win against France. There are practically no breaks for those who are indispensable.

Hutecek won’t be thinking about the pain – the knee caused serious problems during the European Championships in Germany – on Wednesday when the small semi-final chance is at stake in the last main round game against Iceland (3:30 p.m. on ORF1) (see scenarios below).

No matter where the ÖHB team ends up, the joy and pride in what they have achieved – Austria was unbeaten for five games – is huge. Hutecek: “You don’t get the opportunity to play in a European Championship like this often in your life. We tear ourselves apart for this.”

Szilagyi ennobles his successor

Before leaving for the European Championships, Austria had lost its last two European Championship tests against Iceland 28:33 and 30:37. “I am confident”says Hutecek, indicating that the handball world is no longer the same as it was two weeks ago. Austria is the surprise of this European Championship. What coach Ales Pajovic’s team lost in strength, they made up for in euphoria.

The first tournament defeat against France did not change the mood in the dressing room. “Absolutely not, it’s still just as fun as before”says Hutecek, who received numerous congratulations from Austria and Germany. The Lemgo legionnaire says Austria’s style of play has also won fans and admirers among its neighbors.

One of them is none other than Viktor Szilagyi, Hutecek’s predecessor in the middle position, who led Austria to ninth place at the home European Championships in 2010. “What he is doing in this tournament is almost inhuman”says the now managing director of the top German club THW Kiel about Hutecek.

  • Also read: Austria’s goal guarantor – Mykola Bilyk in portrait

“The incredible improvement in quality that the team has made over the past year is 1:1, it has pushed the team into a different area”says Szilagyi, according to the Austrian game of Hutecek and Mykola Bilyk “completely controlled” becomes.

Hutecek, who was born in Lower Austria, moved from Fivers Margareten to the German Bundesliga in 2021. Szilagyi believes he can take the step to a top club: “He is currently in good hands at Lemgo. He has developed from a supplementary player to a leading player. At some point the time will be right, he will know that himself, the European Championships will not go unnoticed.” No matter how the tournament in Germany ends, Hutecek and Co. have played their way into the fold. In return, you also accept a little pain when getting up.

This is how Austria gets to the semi-finals

In the main round group 1, France can no longer be pushed out of first place. Austria also advances to the semi-finals as second, …

  • …if Austria wins against Iceland and Germany loses against Croatia, which has already been eliminated.
  • … if Austria wins against Iceland by at least eleven goals and Germany draws against Croatia.*
  • …if Austria draws against Iceland and Germany loses against Croatia by at least eleven goals. Hungary is not allowed to win against France.*

(* If the goal difference is the same, the more goals scored count.)

With third place in the group, Austria would play the game for fifth place against the other group third place on Friday. It’s also about taking part in an Olympic qualifying tournament. Their composition is complex. “If you get fourth place in the group, your chances are good,” says the ÖHB.

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