Austria surprised the handball world when they drew against Olympic silver medallist Iceland and defeated Serbia to advance to the Main Round of EHF EURO 2010. Their qualification seemed to capture the imagination of the whole country, meaning that the second game against Croatia was played before a loud, capacity audience in the Stadthalle.
Not only men's handball fans came to support the country, but also the women's handball sector paid attention and was rooting for the men.
ehf-euro.com talked to 5-time Champions League winner and ex-Hypo Niederösterreich goalkeeper Natascha Rusnatchenko.
ehf-euro.com: What is your impression of this EURO event?
Natascha Rusnatchenko: I'm so pleased that we as hosts made it to the Main Round, as there's a great atmosphere in the Stadthalle with thousands of local fans supporting the Austrian team. I've been at many preparation tournaments, mostly as an observer, but now I've become addicted and am a real fan of the boys. Also, I feel that the EURO is a great thing for the promotion of the sport within the country.
ehf-euro.com: What advantages do you see for the future of handball in Austria?
Natascha Rusnatchenko: In my opinion, the current handball euphoria is a great thing for the country and it'll last for long time. If we take the example of my son who's 12 years old and plays handball, he, along with a few others, carried the flag of France onto the court in Wiener Neustadt. In his school, he and his handball team-mates are admired. Many kids want to start playing handball, too.
ehf-euro.com: How do you see the performance of the Austrian team? Did you expect them to advance to the main round?
Natascha Rusnatchenko: I honestly reckoned that they'd make it. Their group opponent Serbia is quite an unstable team and as Austria played and prepared well in last year's preparation tournaments, I was confident that we could beat them.
ehf-euro.com: As an ex-goalkeeper, how do you see the performances between the sticks?
Natascha Rusnatchenko: I'm very impressed! It's marvellous how some of the keepers save in certain situations. With today's high standards, it's no longer extraordinary when someone has a 50% save-rate in a game.
ehf-euro.com: What's your tip for the final and the winner of the European Championship?
Natascha Rusnatchenko: I think this time Poland will manage to clinch victory in the final. They're playing many close games and have always managed to win so far. I think that their mental strength is a key factor. Also, their goalkeeper SŘ‚awomir Szmal is playing an extremely good tournament, and he saves consistently at a high level.