Since 2013, Belarus have not missed a European or World Championship, making the tournament in Croatia their third EHF EURO participation in a row.
While finishing 12th in 2014 and 10th in 2016 were seen as pretty good results, now the Eastern European side target qualification for the main round again, even if their preliminary group with France, Norway and Austria is everything but easy.
Two prominent absentees from the 28-man preliminary squad are goalkeeper Ivan Maroz from SKA Minsk and centre back Artsiom Kulak from HC Meshkov Brest. Both have not fully recovered from injuries.
Overall, the current Belarusian squad is a good mix of young and experienced players. Many of them are with leading domestic clubs like Brest, a regular VELUX EHF Champions League participant, and SKA Minsk, which have reached the group stage of the EHF Cup this season. About a third of the squad is playing abroad.
For many years, Belarus had been relying heavily on Siarhei Rutenka until the renowned left back’s retirement almost a year ago. However, the team have made up for this loss surprisingly easily.
Coach Iouri Chevtsov has a number of quality attacking players at his disposal, including centre back Barys Pukhouski, who is the all-time best scorer of Belarus and is doing well at Motor Zaporozhye in the Champions League.
Pukhouski is expected to lead by example, as well as other older players – Siarhei Shylovich, Dzianis Rutenka and Maxim Babichev, who have all been with the national team for about a decade.
The just 21-year-old line player Artsem Karalek from France’s St.-Raphaël Var has established himself as one of the team’s key figures and a prolific scorer. Aliaksandr Padshyvalau, Vadim Gayduchenko and Andrei Yurynok are also promising youngsters who can pose a threat to any opponent.
Depending on the circumstances, Iouri Chevtsov can use different defensive systems, like 5-1 or 3-3, yet the basic system is 6-0.
The goalkeeper’s position used to be the Achilles heel of the Belarusian team, but now the situation has improved as Chevtsov has a few decent options.
It is not yet clear who will be the first-choice goalie as Ivan Matskevich and Vyachaslau Saldatsenka have more or less the same quality.
Both lacked playing time at their clubs earlier in 2017 and benefited from moving to other teams: the 26-year-old Matskevich returned from Steaua Bucuresti to Brest in his home country, while the 23-year-old Saldatsenka moved from HBW Balingen-Weilstetten to HC Odorheiu Secuiesc.
The 58-year-old Iouri Chevtsov is certainly one of the team’s assets. Having been at the helm of Belarus since 2009, he has brought the national side to a new level.
A renowned player of SKA Minsk in the past and a 1988 Olympic champion with the USSR national team, Chevtsov had a good coaching career with German sides TBW Lemgo, TUSEM Essen and Rhein-Neckar Löwen before being appointed head coach of the national team of his native Belarus.
Chevtsov enjoys a solid reputation in the handball world, and his vast experience on international level has certainly helped Belarus to improve in recent years.
With a number of experienced players and a promising young generation coming up, Belarus harbour hopes to make a breakthrough on the international arena in the near future.
In Croatia, Belarus have been drawn into a difficult group. Both France and Norway were finalists at the World Championship last year.
The opening match against Austria will probably play a key role to Belarus’ campaign in Croatia. If Chevtsov’s team win, they have a good chance to reach their goal of qualifying for the main round, which would be another decent result.
The 28 players selected by Belarus for the Men’s EHF EURO 2018
Goalkeepers: Artsem Padasinau (Gomel), Ivan Matskevich (HC Meshkov Brest), Vitali Charapenka (HC Meshkov Brest), Viachaslau Saldatsenka (HC Odorhei), Pavel Miskevich (SKA Minsk)
Wings: Ivan Brouka (SKA Minsk), Andrei Yurynok (HC Meshkov Brest), Maksim Baranau (HC Odorhei), Dzianis Rutenka (HC Meshkov Brest)
Back court: Mikita Vailupau (SKA Minsk), Aliaksei Shynkel (Motor Zaporozhye), Hleb Harbuz (SKA Minsk), Siarhei Shylovich (HC Meshkov Brest), Aleh Astrashapkin (HC Meshkov Brest), Barys Pukhouski (Motor Zaporozhye), Vyachaslau Bokhan (SKA Minsk), Aliaksandr Padshyvalau (SKA Minsk), Aliaksandr Bachko (Riihimaen Cocks), Artur Karvatski (Furedi KSE), Uladzislau Kulesh (SKA Minsk), Kiryl Kniazeu (Energa MKS), Vadim Gayduchenko (Dinamo Bucuresti), Mikalai Aliokhin (SKA Minsk), Dzmitry Nikulenkau (HC Meshkov Brest)
Line players: Aliaksandr Tsitou (Riihimaen Cocks), Maxim Babichev (Motor Zaporozhye), Artsem Karalek (Saint-Raphael), Viachaslau Shumak (HC Meshkov Brest)