The winds of change: Who will replace the missing stars?

FEATURE: Thierry Omeyer, Arpad Sterbik and Filip Jicha are some of the big names that will not take part in the EHF EURO 2018, but their replacements are set to shine in Croatia

Photo: Sascha Klahn

Change is inevitable. Players retire, miss tournaments due to injury, and are omitted from the roster by their coaches.

There are several high-profile players who starred in previous Men’s EHF EUROs, but will not make the trip to Croatia. Many title contenders are affected by changes in their squads, but the manner in which they respond and the substitutions they bring in could represent the key ingredient to winning the gold medal.

A different defence for ‘Les Experts’

France are one of the favourites to win their fourth EHF EURO title, but ‘Les Experts’ have experienced a serious overhaul in the past year. Gone are the days when Thierry Omeyer shut down his goal whenever he was between the posts or when Daniel Narcisse played an important role in one of the best defences of the last 20 years.

However, with Didier Dinart, a former defensive stalwart as coach, France are sure to retain their grit and attention to detail. It helps a lot that 31-year-old goalkeeper Vincent Gerard has been part of the team for five years and already won the gold medal in the EHF EURO four years ago.

A new approach from Ribera

Though he was selected as one of the 28 players for the EHF EURO, Arpad Sterbik did not make the final cut on the Spanish roster. But ‘Los Hispanos’ are not short of talent between the goalposts, with one of the most exciting goalkeeping duos in Europe.

Gonzalo Peres de Vargas and Rodrigo Coralles have had superb performances for Barcelona and Orlen Wisla Plock, respectively, in the VELUX EHF Champions League, and will be looking to keep the bar high in Croatia. They have even been named the best goalkeepers in the world by Sterbik, who will watch the tournament as a fan.

The elusive gold medal at the EHF EURO has motivated Spain for several years now, and right wing Victor Tomas has been a go-to player for the side over the last few years. But Tomas was not called for the EHF EURO 2018, and David Balaguer and Ferran Sole will don the Spain jersey instead.

It was a blow for Tomas, who openly criticised coach Jordi Ribera’s selection. But Balaguer and Sole had superb games in the last friendly matches against Belarus and Argentina, both won by Spain. The right wing from Nantes scored nine times, while Sole, the 26-year-old rookie who plays for Fenix Toulouse, tallied 10.

A pair to replace Andersson

Mattias Andersson was the only link between the famous ‘Bengan Boys’ and the current Sweden team until his retirement after the EHF EURO 2016. However, the Sweden side did not have to look far to replace the gold medallist from 2000, and will rely on the formidable pair of Andreas Palicka and Mikael Appelgren in Croatia.

The two goalkeepers are also club teammates, where they won the last two German titles with Rhein-Neckar Löwen. “Such a stressful tournament, with three games in five days, can tire the players, especially the goalkeepers. We are blessed with an amazing pair and we need them to be in top shape,” said Sweden coach Kristjan Andresson.

Three right backs instead of Nagy

Replacing a star will always be difficult, but when 36-year-old Laszlo Nagy decided to quit the Hungary national team in 2017, the blow was tough. However, a new team is slowly being developed – with not only new players, but a new coach, Ljubomir Vranjes – and the challenges keep on coming. There is little time for experimenting, so Vranjes counts three right backs in the 18-player roster for Croatia.

Zsolt Balogh, the 28-year-old right back from MOL-Pick Szeged, looks like the in-form player, scoring five times for Hungary in the 29:29 draw against Sweden last week. Veszprém’s Gabor Ancsin is the most experienced of the lot, playing 100 games for the Hungary national team, while Donat Bartok could be the surprise package if unleashed in Croatia.

Another veteran to substitute Jicha

The retirement of Filip Jicha represented a significant loss for Czech Republic. The left back was hampered by injuries in the last part of his career and stopped last October, after a distinguished 17-year career. Jicha was not only the most important player in the Czech team; he was also the second-top goal scorer in his national team at EHF EURO events, scoring 131 goals in five tournaments.

A big hole needs to be plugged, and the loss of injured centre back Tomas Babak will certainly not help the team in Croatia. Pavel Horak, the 35-year-old left back who played for Goppingen and Füchse Berlin, will have the difficult task of replacing Jicha and helping his team progress from what looks to be the most balanced group in the competition.

written by Adrian Costeiu / Björn Pazen / cg