Latvian handball team prepares for historic EURO CUP match

January 9 will go down in Latvian handball history, as the national team led by head coach Armands Uščins will compete in the European Handball Federation EURO CUP final tournament for the first time, according to Latvian Radio.

The EURO CUP 2020 will be held in Austria, Norway and Sweden from January 9-26, and the Latvian national team will face its first Group C rival and last year's champions Spain in the Norwegian city of Trondheim. They will go up against the Netherlands on January 11 and Germany on January 13.

"It's our first time for all of it. We'll talk about emotions [later]," said coach Sandris Veršakovs.

Veršakovs said that the presence of both of the team's leading players will dramatically improve their playing level. Powerful player Dainis Krištopāns and the experienced Ģirts Lilienfelds were both benched earlier due to injuries. He also emphasized the importance of analyzing the opponents and making sure each player understands their assignment.

The Latvian team is split 50/50 with half representing Latvian club teams, including Dobeles Tenax and Celtnieks, and half playing for international clubs.

The team finished preparations for the championship with an unofficial training game against the Norwegian B team where the result wasn't fixed. Group opponent the Netherlands prepared with a loss against the Tunisian team, while Spain beat Portugal in a home game.

Latvian team captain Ingars Dude admits there is still work to do, but the main focus will be on quickly returning to defensive positions and not letting opponents gain easy points. He said they need to feel the rhythm of the game, as ever mistake could cost a goal.

Two years ago Latvian handball celebrated 60 years. Latvian legend Andris Gulbis was 75 at the time. He played on the USSR national team and won a bronze medal at the USSR national championships as part of the Daugava team in 1967. He has been the coach of Celtnieks for several years, as well as the head coach of the national team.

The current national team includes several of Gulbis' former students. The former coach is thankful to the many people in the handball community who contributed and helped prepare for this historic moment. His main focus is on beating the Netherlands.

"I hope that the boys won't break and will see the matches honorably through to the end," said Gulbis. 

The top two teams from group A-F will make it to the next round, which will consist of two groups of six teams. The top two teams of each of those groups will make it to the semi-final, and the final will be held in Stockholm on January 26. The game against Spain will take place at 8:30 p.m. local time and can be livestreamed on the ehfTV website or whatched live on TV6.
 

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