“It’s such a big deal for Dutch handball”

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“It’s such a big deal for Dutch handball”


January 19, 2022




EURO 2022 Hungary / Slovakia

 

Interview: Kay Smits (Netherlands)

By J. Schuetz

 

The 2022 European championships have turned into a historic event for the Dutch men’s national handball team.  After two wins in the preliminary round of the competition, the crew of head coach, Erlingur Richardsson, have advanced to the next stage of the tournament.

One of the success factors that made it all possible – Kay Smits, the right-back, who plays his club handball at SC Magdeburg, currently leads all scorers with 32 goals after three matches, including the surprise victory against host Hungary on opening day.

Last night the Netherlands sealed the deal, when they maintained the edge against Portugal after a comfortable 17:13 lead at the half.

stregspiller.com talked with Kay Smits about the celebrations after reaching the main round, the challenges ahead and how the Covid pandemic has affected the Dutch team.

A historic main round berth

Did he and his teammates thought about staying in Budapest last week around this time?

“Yes – this was our objective.  We knew that we had a difficult group including teams like Iceland, Hungary and Portugal. We also knew that we could win or lose it all.  Yet, we had self-confidence.  We knew that we could do it and advance to the next round.

“Now, we did it.  It’s a super feeling and I am incredibly proud of the team.”

The scenes following the final buzzer at the MVM Dome after the match against Portugal were emotional, to say the least and most of the Dutch fans stayed in the arena to celebrate with the players.  How did Kay Smits and his teammates enjoy this historic moment?

“Of course, we had a small party in the locker room and on the bus ride back to the hotel.  It was great – you have to enjoy such moments because it’s such a big deal for Dutch handball.  We took the time to celebrate a little bit, on the other hand we don’t have so much time before our next match (against France ed.) on Thursday.

“Today, we have to pay attention to our recovery and then focus on the upcoming game.”

The main round – an endurance test

The Netherlands had to fight hard in all three encounters they faced during the preliminary round and none of the games came easy.  Does the squad have the stamina and power to deal with even tougher opponents?

“Yes – this will be a key issue.  How much power do we have left as a team?  Now, we will face the “big” teams, who have 20 or more players, who they could rotate on a regular basis. That’s how they stayed fresh.

“It’s different on our end.  We had three very tight matches and we’re not in a position to rotate the bench as much. Hence, we are a bit tired.  Yes – we’ll face an enormous challenge, but all the pressure is gone.  Now, we can play freely and show how well we can play handball.

“We accept the challenge and we would like to win one or two more games.”

“I am looking forward to what we can do against Croatia and Montenegro.”

In the main round of the EHF EURO 2022, the Netherlands will face France, Montenegro, Denmark and Croatia (in this order), how does Kay Smits rank the competition?

“Denmark and France, of course, are extremely strong squads and I am also curious to see how Iceland will deal with these two opponents, in particular.  They (Denmark and France ed.) have so much quality.  The match against Croatia will be a real fight, despite them missing a few players.  They are always a candidate for the semifinal.

“I am looking forward to what we can do against Croatia and Montenegro.”

Covid testing and the long wait

The ongoing Covid pandemic overshadows the whole tournament and several teams have been hit hard, scrambling to bring in new players.  The Netherlands are affected as well, but Kay Smits prefers to focus on the next task instead of worrying about something he can’t control.

“Unfortunately, we have been impacted as well.  Yesterday and the day before yesterday, a total of three players tested positive. We knew of the risk beforehand and we are very cautious and try to stay inside and not meet too many people from the outside.

“We try to protect ourselves as good as we can, but in the end you als need a bit of luck.  All teams face the same challenge – one positive Covid test result and then all your plans and preparation for the next match can go downhill very quickly.

“Take a day like today – we took our PCR tests in the morning and now we have to wait until we get the results.  Yet, you can’t get stressed out too much because it’s outside your control.”

How do the Covid testing logistics, actually work and how long does it take to get the results back?  According to Kay Smits it got better, but there is room for improvement.

“We take the tests in the morning and usually we’ll get the results around 21:00 or 22:00 hours.  In the beginning we had to meet in a small room where the test were administered – not ideal if you think about it.  Now, it’s a bit better, but the turnaround time could still be improved.

“As mentioned, we get tested in the morning and receive the results late in the evening – 12 hours later. I understand the analysis of the probes take some time and it can’t be done in 20 minutes or so, but 12 hours are a long time.  There’s too much uncertainty.”

Top scorer…

Currently, Kay Smits is the top scorer (32 goals) of the EHF EURO 2022.  Has he given thought about staying at the top of the list until the end of the competition?

“I really don’t care about it.  Many have asked the same questions, but during the game I only pay attention to the match and I don’t think about how many goals I have scored or not.  Please ask me again after the championship.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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