It took eight years for the Czech women to once again qualify for an EHF EURO event, or any other major competition, after finishing 13th in Hungary in 2004.
In Serbia, the newly formed team of coach Jan Basny have high hurdles ahead after ranking second in their qualification group below Sweden.
Not only do they have to face defending European, World, and Olympic champions Norway, but also host Serbia.
The third opponent in their group at the Combank Arena in Belgrade is Ukraine.
Basny’s objective is very simple: “We want to stay as long in the tournament as possible.
“We know, what our real chances are, so we want to play to the edge of our ability. The biggest objective is to say after the EHF EURO that we did our best for success and played as well as we can.”
Only three players of the officially nominated 28 players come from clubs outside the Czech Republic, but this is no problem for Basny, who does not think that his squad lacks international experience:
“Our players have some international experiences from European Cup competitions and also from the national team. They have played together for at least two years, and they have won the University World Championship with nearly the same group.
“What we are missing for sure is the experience to compete at major tournaments - this can limit us, but this is also why we are focusing on psychology.”
The only player in the Czech EHF EURO squad with more than 100 international caps is Petra Vítková – but the 33 year old pivot from DHK Banik Most and former player of current EHF Champions League champion Buducnost Podgorica does not want to be called the “leader”:
“My age and my experience might predestine me for this role, but we are a team, it is not about one leader.
“Team spirit and also team play are our keys. We have a few key players, but our play is not built on individuals like, for example, our men’s team.”
Coach Jan Basny likes to see the responsibility to be carried on various shoulders: “It is characteristic of our team, like when you look upon our captains: “We have three players with a leadership role, each one in another department of the team.
“So we have not one leader, but a triumvirate, performed by Iveta Luzumová, Petra Vítková, and Barbora Raníková.”
Vítková’s personal dream, like that of the rest of the team, is to reach the Main Round.
And in the first stage of the preparation Vítková and her team proved their strength by beating Germany clearly in a test match: “It was extraordinary, but why not repeat a match like this at the EHF EURO?” Vítková says and smiles."
She shares her coaches opinion that it is not a problem that nearly all players come from Czech clubs: “Every coin has two sides, but I think it is an advantage.
“In our clubs we can work together for the whole season and we often see our national team colleagues. So we really know what we can expect from every player.”
To qualify for the EHF EURO in Serbia was a milestone for Vítková “after eight long years”, for her “a new era of Czech women’s handball” has begun, thanks the successful qualification round: “We have a positive present and hopefully a positive future.”
The future in Serbia starts right with the most important match for the Czech team regarding their hopes to proceed against Ukraine.
“This is the decisive and crucial game,” says coach Jan Basny and he adds: “After that we will see our real chance to go through.”
His opinion about the remaining opponents: “Norway are the favourite to defend their title and Serbia are very strong thanks to their home advantage.”
And both Ukraine and Czech Republic will not have any tactical secrets in their EHF EURO meeting, as both will compete next weekend at the same preparation tournament, the Turchin Cup in Ukraine, where Hungary, Russia, FYR Macedonia and Netherlands will also play.
The final part of the EHF EURO preparation will be two matches against EHF EURO participant Iceland right before the departure to Serbia.
Petra Vítková is particularly looking forward to the match against the defending champions: “Norway are the best team in women’s handball, so it will be great experience to face them.
They are fast, fantastically organized and also act like a team, so I hope we will enjoy the match.”
Vítková’s prediction for the EHF EURO favourites of course includes Thorir Hergeirsson’s team: “Main favourite is Norway and then Russia. As a former Podgorica player I have to admit that Montenegro also belongs to those big favourites.”
On Monday, the final stages of the preparation for the Czech team started near Prague with the remaining 19 players, 16 of them will be nominated for the preparation tournament in Ukraine.
Goalkeepers: Barbora Raníková (DHK Zora Olomouc), Lucie Satrapová (DHC Slavia Praha), Dominika Michaela Müllnerová (DHK Baník Most)
Wingers: Romana Chrenková (DHC Sokol Poruba), Kristýna Salčáková (HC Britterm Veselí nad Moravou), Jana Knedlíková (DHC Slavia Praha), Michaela Hrbková (DHC Sokol Poruba), Leona Šviráková (HC Zlín)
Back court players: Hana Martinková (DHK Baník Most), Hana Kutlvašrová (DHC Slavia Praha), Iveta Luzumová (Mios Biganos, FRA), Pavla Poznarová (DHC Sokol Poruba), Klára Černá (DHC Slavia Praha), Helena Štěrbová (HC Britterm Veselí nad Moravou), Kateřina Keclíková (DHC Slavia Praha), Petra Růčková (DHK Baník Most)
Line players: Petra Vítková (DHK Baník Most), Iveta Matoušková (EKS Start Elblag, POL), Dominika Selucká (DHC Sokol Poruba)