Dutch delight: Netherlands finally in top four at Beach Handball EUROArticle
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FEATURE: Thanks to a federation consistently investing in its youth teams, Netherlands are having a breakthrough tournament in Stare Jablonki this week

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Dutch delight: Netherlands finally in top four at Beach Handball EURO

They have been knocking on the semi-final door for a few years now. And finally they let themselves in.

The Women’s Beach Handball EURO 2019 in Poland has become a breakthrough tournament for the Netherlands, getting to the last four of a European Championship for the first time.

The 2:0 semi-final defeat against Hungary on Saturday obviously hurt, but ultimately will not spoil the Dutch party. They will have a go for the bronze medal against Croatia on Sunday (at 14:00 hrs, live on ehfTV.com) to crown their historic tournament.

One reward, though, is already in the pocket: a ticket to their first ever World Championship, in Italy next year.

“That was our first goal. We haven’t been there with the women’s senior team,” Dutch head coach Ronald Thijssen tells eurohandball.com. “It’s harder to reach the worlds than to perform well there, as there are so many strong European nations and only a few can qualify.”

Still, don’t think Netherlands are satisfied by ‘just’ getting to the semi-finals.

“It is nice but if you get this far, you want a medal,” says Thijssen, a long-term beach handball coach with the Dutch federation, NHV.

Successes have not come out of the blue

A week ago, the Dutch youth team also lost to Hungary in the semi-final of the YAC 17 Beach Handball EURO, and ultimately finished fourth. The successes in Stare Jablonki have not come out of the blue. According to Thijssen, the federation has been investing heavily in its beach handball youth selections.

“And they have done well in the last couple of years,” the head coach says. “In our squad we now have five players who have come through the federation’s youth ranks and have the experience of playing major tournaments.”

As the Dutch federation’s efforts are fruitful, more and more young talents are coming through and eventually become part of the senior team.

And now it is showing in the results. Netherlands were within touching distance of the semi-finals twice before, but they lost the 2015 quarter-final in a shoot-out to Italy. The scenario repeated itself two years later, when Poland closed the Dutch road to possible glory at the same stage of the tournament.

“We are a team that consists partly of youngsters, partly of more experienced players,” says Isabel Barnard, one of the experienced forces of the team. “These young players are used to playing European and world championships, but the senior team has only been close always. So, finally winning that quarter-final was so great.”

Dutch expections ahead of the semi-final were high

The Dutch expectations ahead of Saturday's semi-final against Hungary were high, after they had comfortably beaten the same opponents 2:0 in a main-round match two days earlier.

Netherlands started well, taking a quick 6:2 lead, but soon found themselves 8:6 down. They lost control of the game from that point. Hungary used their chances well and prevented the Dutch from getting back into the match by early disturbing their attacks.

“The defence was OK, but our attack didn’t work,” Thijssen says following the 19:16, 15:12 defeat. “We usually score more than 20 goals, and now just above 10 in the second set. We had many catching, passing and technical mistakes.”

Agreeing with her coach, Barnard adds: “At the end of the second set we were just very sloppy in attack. We had to make up only four points - two two-pointers and you are there. But we were too hectic.”

The match resembled the Dutch quarter-final game against world champions Greece from the day before.

“Against Greece we won the first set pretty easily but in the second set tension creeped in. It also happened in this match. We have to look into this with the group and how we can do better next time,” Thijssen says. “I am very glad that we get another chance tomorrow to let everybody see the way we can play.”

Barnard also can’t wait to take the sand court in Stare Jablonki for a final time on Sunday.

“Tomorrow we are going to take that medal. That is an all-or-nothing game,” Barnard says. “We will recharge and it would be great if we can show one more time how well we can play beach handball.”

Photos: Uros Hocevar / kolektiff / EHF

TEXT: Eric Willemsen / ts