By Yuri Kovalev
Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Portugal were battling Belarus in the international event, which was the Belarusian squad’s first serious test since losing to Turkey last December in Portuguese Funchal. Coached by Anatoly Zakladnoy, it was a chance for the team to bounce back from the qualification round of the World Championship four months ago, which left Belarus with a one-year break from official tournaments. The Czech Republic contest was a welcome distraction.
The opening match saw our Belarusian girls lose to the host team (25:34) but they surprised everyone by beating multi-titled Ukraine. Although the leading Ukrainian players were absent, it does not diminish the significance of the victory. Belarusian core player Alesya Kurchenkova showed her full ability, enthusiastically leading her team to a 31:24 triumph. Portugal was a harder nut to crack, with the teams equally matched in the first half; the second saw Belarus push forward to snatch a 29:27 win. Alas, these two victories were not enough to achieve overall gold, with Ukraine being three points ahead.
Belarus is to face Germany, Hungary and Azerbaijan in the struggle for two places in the 2012 European Championship (settled by the draw held in Holland). Norway (the current European champion) and Holland (the host team) automatically qualify for the final stage of the 2012 European Women’s Handball Championship. A further 14 squads will join them; 28 teams are to be split into 7 groups, playing two away and home matches, with the top two squads from each group earning a place at the championship.
Belarusian handball team head coach Anatoly Zakladnoy has commented on the draw, saying, “The teams from Hungary and Germany are almost equally matched and are both more likely to go through than Belarus but time will tell. I believe that we’re showing some signs of progress. Last year, we played against Germany. I think it’s possible to play them and win. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is an unusual team, comprising Russian and Ukrainian players. They’ve played a great deal and are motivated to aim high.”