Czechs happy in Slovakia’s handball capitalArticle
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AROUND THE WORLD: Czech Republic may have missed the ongoing World Championship by a single goal, but Czechs are a regular feature in the top flight of club handball

»EHF CL Channel »2016-17 Men's News

Czechs happy in Slovakia’s handball capital

Czech Republic is a country known for its picturesque capital Prague, blown glass and beer; a nation where football and ice hockey grab the spotlight, but handball is constantly working its way up the pecking order.  

When it comes to handball in Czech Republic, one name comes to mind - 2010 world player of the year and Barcelona left back Filip Jícha.

However, there are more names to watch out for on the horizon. They may have missed out on the World Championship by a single goal, a 56:55 playoff defeat by FYR Macedonia, but you can see them in action for TATRAN Presov in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Jícha’s successors

With 44 goals, 26-year-old left wing Jakub Hrstka leads Presov’s goalscorers list in Europe. On the opposite wing, another Czech, Tomas Cip, has 19 netted goals. This is an improvement for both after making their debut in the group phase last season.

“I played the most difficult matches on my own on the left wing this season. On one hand, it is an advantage, because I have plenty of playing time, but at the same time it is tiring. We play many matches, travel a lot and there is very little time for recovery,” explained Hrstka.

“Our main goal was to reach the group phase of the competition. Last year we did not pick up many points, this season it was better. We were more competitive and for a long time we were in the race to progress. For the second consecutive year I had knee problems, but otherwise the matches I took part in were a very positive experience,” Tomas Cip added.

Czech enclave in Presov

The Czech wingers formed a strong duo in eastern Slovakia. Both arrived in 2011 from the same Czech club, HC Zubri.

“Ambitions are higher in Presov. The motivation to play in the Champions League was decisive. I am very happy to have been a part of it for two seasons with Presov. This competition is the pinnacle for a player,” said Cip.

“In Zubri we played in the EHF Cup. Playing for Presov in the Champions League and SEHA League offers me the opportunity to face the best teams in Europe. Only with difficult matches can players improve,” said Hrstka on his move to Slovakia. 

“We went to the same kindergarten and primary school. We grew up together,” recalled Hrstka.

His 27-year-old teammate added: “We meet up every day. It helps a lot if you have a close friend at a club far from home.”

Long wait

The last Czech club to participate in Europe’s top flight was Karvina in 2007/08. Hrstka frankly identifies the problem: “At the moment, there is no Czech club which can realistically play at this level. There are great players in the Czech teams, but financially the clubs cannot afford it.

Despite the barren spell at club level, the Czech national team regularly competes at major events.

“The level of the national team has risen a lot, helped by young players, who moved abroad to play in difficult leagues in Germany and France. The team is balanced and they guys are gaining more and more experience,” said Hrstka

A project which should help the Czech (and Slovak) clubs to attract more attention and potential sponsors is planned to throw-off next season. Jakub believes both countries will benefit from the Czech-Slovak handball league.

“Matches will be more attractive for spectators for media and for sponsors. It can bring more money into the sport and help raise the level of handball.”

“And we will meet our old friends from Zubri!” added Tomas.

Transit station

They are not in the spotlight like their role model Jícha, but the talented wings are slowly climbing up the ladder and Presov may be a transit station on their journey.

“My confidence grows with the quality matches we played in Europe. I dream about playing in the Bundesliga, the best domestic league in the world. Success with the national team remains another goal for the rest of my career,” suggested Hrstka.

On the contrary, Tomas does not have a clear vision for the future. “We will see where handball will take me.”

When asked if he considers himself as a role model being the top scoring Czech in the VELUX EHF Champions League, Jakub answered modestly: “It is a nice feeling to come home and see young kids wanting to have a chat about handball.

“They see me on TV every week and for them it is a great motivator to have a word with me. I am delighted to be an inspiration for any young player.”

TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / cor