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23/01/2014

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EHF EURO BLOG: Tom O Brannagain speaks about the three moments at this EHF EURO that will stand out in his memory for years

Photo: Uros Hocevar

It's semi-final weekend and foremost in my mind is the weather. I haven't seen the sun in two weeks or more. But as talking about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative, I will focus on the handball and say "the heat is on the court".

 

It may surprise you to know that due to an unrelenting programme of "Wordplay" and various YouTube clips (which are worth a watch by the way), I haven't seen a lot of handball.

But the word at dinner and around the coffee tables is that the four best teams have reached the semi-final stage: They are hosts Denmark, then Spain, Croatia and France.

In the end the only team that threatened to break into the modern day 'Super4' was Poland, but they fell at the final hurdle, just not having enough steam left to wrangle a place from Croatia.

I would not dare comment about the outcome of these matches, although I'm sure the Danes will, will their team to reach the final. Instead I would like to focus on three events which will stand out in my memory for years to come.

It has been mentioned in football circles that the Champions League has somehow eclipsed international football as the no.1 competition. It has been mooted that players no longer really care about their national teams.

The same could not be said for the players at this tournament who upon arriving at the semi-final stage have already played six matches in 12 days rising to eight in 14 upon the finals. They are tired, fatigued, carrying little niggles, but still they give their all for team and country.

Nowhere was this more visible than when the FYR Macedonia player, Stojanche Stoilov, pleaded with the referee not to give him 2 minutes at a late stage of the game against Iceland. The score was so close that they had perhaps a chance of victory. The suspension would surely push the match in Iceland's favour.

The picture, caught in a fantastic moment by EHF Photographer, Uros Hocevar, is the epitome of national pride. Stoilov, pleads his case to a higher power, in this case the referee, but to no avail as the dreaded two fingers are raised aloft by the latter.

His face is that of a boy, hoping against hope, that his transgression would be overlooked, but realising that no amount of supplication will find an answer to his prayer.

The next standout moment for me, also caught by Uros, is that of Victor Tomas, racing after a lost cause ball. The ball is rolling in 'No Man's Land' on the court and showing his usual grit and determination he chases, then dives on the ball.

At the same time Niklas Landin is racing from his goal to get the ball. He arrives in standing position, whereas Tomas dives in futile desperation. The picture shows a man stretching every sinew in his body to regain possession of the ball. There would be no attempt on goal, no glory, just the effort to keep his team in a match against Denmark that was slipping away.

Had he grown his fingernails another 1 millimetre he may just have got there, but the effort is his spirit, a man who will always chase the lost causes for his team and country.

The last picture is of world star Karabatic parading the court side in his underwear. 'Niko's Knickers' became a web phenomenon. With Gallic flair, he whipped of his shorts to remove his compression pants to reveal a set of boxers that are as colourful as his personality.

Without wishing to further the picture in anyone's head, I want a pair of those boxers, if only to say, well if Karabatic can wear them so can I.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this championship. I have greater respect for the work each and every person does here from media, volunteer, office staff to referee.

But lest we forget, these young men are gladiators. They are sons, husbands and partners. But more than that, they are the 'flag bearers' of their nations.

They are superstars and when they shine brightly, the coldness and bleakness of the weather are forgotten, in the heat, nay the "the heart of handball".

written by Tom O Brannagain, EHF Presenter