Israel target return to EHF EURO after 20 years
31 teams are still vying for places at the Men’s EHF EURO 2022 in Hungary and Slovakia — with only two of the qualifiers tickets already secured, by Germany and Serbia. Prior to the final week of qualifiers, most of the participants have regularly played four matches, while some have three behind them — and one team has played just two games so far: Israel.
Due to travel restrictions, it has been impossible for Israel to host any matches, so top star Chen Pomeranz and his teammates are now facing the toughest programme of all, with four qualifiers within seven days from Monday to Sunday.
Our team has made a significant progress in the past few years as a result of the experience Israeli players gained while playing in the various European leagues. Our team believes in its abilities and does not give up easily, a fact we have proven in Tel Aviv while facing stronger teams than us.
It starts on Monday when Israel host Lithuania. One day later it will be Iceland and on Tuesday, Portugal, before they travel to Iceland on Sunday. So far, Israel only have played in Portugal (22:31) and Lithuania (28:31).
“We are facing a very intensive week with four matches that will decide our final ranking in the group. Up until now, we had to deal with challenging conditions due to the pandemic outbreak,” says head coach Oleg Butenko, who succeeded Macedonian Zvonko Shundovski in 2019.
Under Butenko’s helm, the performance level of the Israel team has developed enormously. In the qualification for the EHF EURO 2020, Israel beat Poland and Kosovo, with a defeat in Kosovo the reason they did not book their EHF EURO ticket.
So, the final tournament in 2002 in Sweden, when Israel eliminated North Macedonia in the play-offs, remains the only participation at a European Championship so far. At the EHF EURO 2002, the group with Portugal, Denmark and Russia was too strong for Israel, and the underdogs returned home without a point.
But under Butenko — and thanks to a youth project together with the German Handball Federation and German club VfL Gummersbach — things have changed. Israel’s former youth national team, with 14 players and coach Damir Eklic, stayed in Germany throughout 2016/2017, playing many friendly matches with German youth Bundesliga teams and facing the German youth national team.
The players became stronger and gained experience, and six of them — Yoav Lumbroso, Yonatan Dayan, Lior Gurman, Tomer Bodenheimer, Snir Natsia and Ofir Cohen — are now part of the men’s national team and, except Cohen, play for clubs abroad.
Dayan (Rimpar) and Natsia (Großwallstadt) play for clubs in the German second division, while Danielo Mosindi is with first Bundesliga side Erlangen. Others play in France and some in Switzerland, and the most experienced star among the current Israel squad, Pomeranz, is contracted by Spanish side Puerto Sagunto. A total of nine players are signed by foreign clubs — a development that handball in Israel had been waiting on for a long time.
“Our team has made a significant progress in the past few years as a result of the experience Israeli players gained while playing in the various European leagues. Our team believes in its abilities and does not give up easily, a fact we have proven in Tel Aviv while facing stronger teams than us,” says Butenko, who has high hopes for the four upcoming EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers.
“Our schedule is very tight next week but we will do the best we can under the circumstances. We are especially determined to do the best we can in our home games, where we hope to score points. Our first mission is against Lithuania, and we will come to get the points. After this match, we will prepare for the rest of our matches,” concludes Butenko.