Russia aim to stop the rut at EHF EURO 2022
This is the 20th article in a series of 24, presenting all participants at the Men's EHF EURO 2022 in Hungary and Slovakia.
Once a powerhouse in European men’s handball, Russia suffered some steps back, leading to their first non-qualification for the EHF EURO in 2018 and losing all the games at the EHF EURO 2020.
Since Velimir Petkovic was named as the new coach in March 2020, he has swiftly supervised a total makeover of the Russia team, with plenty of new names and a new mentality, ready to reverse the fortunes in the next years.
Three questions ahead of the Men’s EHF EURO 2022:
- Can Velimir Petkovic spearhead a run to stop the rut?
Russia won only five of their last 24 games played in the final tournament at the EHF EURO, while also registering their first non-qualification for the European premium tournament for the first time in 2018. Their 22nd place and the first tournament without at least one draw at the EHF EURO 2020 prompted quick action, as experienced coach Velimir Petkovic was appointed on 4 March 2020 to try and stop the rut.
Russia finished 14th at the IHF Men’s World Championship 2021, boasting a better attack and a stronger team spirit, and went unbeaten in a group also featuring the Czech Republic, Ukraine and the Faroe Islands to clinch the first place in the EHF EURO 2022 Qualification Phase 2. Russia look better in attack, have good options in defence, and will look to win their first games at the EHF EURO in six years, when they beat Montenegro 28:21 in the preliminary round.
- Will the new generation be more successful?
At the EHF EURO 2020, Russia boasted a vast amount of experience, with the likes of Pavel Atman, Timur Dibirov, Gleb Kalarash, or Sergei Gorbok leading the charge. All of them are out now, leaving a new generation for Russia to try and better their performances. From the 22 players named by Petkovic in the provisional squad, only five of them are aged 30 or older, with two only turning 30 last year. The average age of the squad is not low at 26.6 years, yet Russia have plenty of talent ready to take advantage of their chances now.
- Is the Russian league strong enough to nurture good players?
From the 22-player roster selected by Petkovic before the start of the EHF EURO 2022, who went into preparation at Novogorsk, only five players are plying their trade in other leagues than Russia. Two of them, backs Dmitry Zhitnikov and Sergei Mark Kosorotov, play for Polish outfit Orlen Wisla Plock, back Dmitrii Santalov has a contract with Belarussian EHF Champions League team HC Meshkov Brest, while two other backs, Mikhail Vinogradov and Sergey Kudinov, play for Bregenz Handball and Chartres MHB.
The main core of the roster plays in Russia, however, with eight players coming from Chekhovskie medvedi and five from CSKA. While Medvedi have not qualified for the EHF Champions League Men for the past two seasons and have won only once in the first six matches in the EHF European League Men this season, CSKA have failed to progress to the group phase of the second-tier European competition, being eliminated in the qualification by USAM Nimes Gard. Therefore, the question is if the core of the team is tested like they will probably be at the EHF EURO 2022, with great challenges lying ahead for Russia.
Under the spotlight: Sergei Mark Kosorotov
The 22-year-old left back has already made his debut at the EHF EURO 2020 for Russia but could not prevent his team going home after the preliminary round, being swept by their opponents. Kosorotov has now three final tournaments under his belt and was Russia’s top scorer at the Men’s IHF World Championship in 2021, with 26 goals, hoping to achieve the same level of consistency also at the EHF EURO 2022.
After switching teams this summer, transferring to Polish giants Orlen Wisla Plock, he has been nothing short of superb, becoming his team’s top scorer in the EHF European League Men. The combination of his handball IQ and powerful shots might stand out once again and can help boost Russia’s chance for a main round berth this time around.
“In the preliminary round, I cannot see any rivals against whom we will stand no chance. We will try to get the upper hand in every match,” said Russia coach Velimir Petkovic. The experienced coach has reinvigorated the side, finishing 14th at the IHF Men’s World Championship 2021. A change of mentality and tactics has helped Russia to be more proactive in the games and could also boost the young players into chipping in more for the team.
Despite not qualifying for the final weekend since the EHF EURO 2000, Russia are still sixth in the all-time medal standings, with a gold medal won in 1996 and two silver medals, secured in 1994 and 2000.
In fact, Russia and Sweden were the only two teams to make the final weekend in each of the first four editions of the EHF EURO. Since 2006, Russia did not finish higher than ninth – in 2014 and 2016.
What the numbers say
6 – Russia are currently on a six-game winless run at the EHF EURO, dating back to 2016. Their worst run in the competition was a nine-game streak, set between 2010 and 2014.
Men’s EHF EURO participations (including 2022): 14
Winners (1): 1996
Runners-up (2): 1994, 2000
Fourth (1): 1998
Fifth (2): 2002, 2004