"Da simmer dabei" (colloquial German for 'We made it') is the slogan of the Austrian national team on their way to the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark.
For the first time in history an Austrian men’s team qualified for an EHF EURO event. The only time they took part to date was in 2010, when they hosted the tournament and finished among the top 10.
Facing hosts, Denmark, FYR Macedonia and the Czech Republic in Group A in Herning, the team of Iceland-born head coach Patrekur Johannesson hopes to clinch the berth for the next stage again, like they did on home ground in 2010.
"We have a great mix of experienced and young players. We are aiming for the main round," says Robert Weber, one of the huge number of players, who plays in the German Bundesliga.
Together with Austrian young gun Raul Santos (VfL Gummersbach), Weber, who plays for Magdeburg, is currently among the top four scorers of 'the best league in the world'.
"This EHF EURO will be a personal highlight like the birth of my son was some weeks ago," says Weber, looking forward the event.
Coach Patrekur Johannesson is currently working on the EHF EURO tactics in his home country Iceland, analysing all three opponent with a bigger focus on Czech Republic and FYR Macedonian – as Denmark seem to be out of reach for his team.
"Our full focus is on the opener against Czech Republic. If we beat the Czechs, the gate to the next stage is wide open," says team captain Viktor Szilagyi, the most experienced player of the Austrian squad.
Szilagyi is the only Austrian, who has won all major EHF European Cup competitions with his former German clubs – EHF Champions League, EHF Cup and the EHF Cup Winners’ Cup.
Austria aiming high
The latest tests against Iceland at the beginning of November have been successful: a victory and a close defeat boosted the confidence of the Austria, who will play a test tournament in Germany at the beginning of January facing Russia, Iceland and Germany, before having the final test on home ground against Egpyt.
"We do not travel to Denmark as tourists, we are aiming for the main round," says goalkeeper Thomas Bauer.
"The Czechs and the Macedonians are in reach, because we have as many players from German clubs as never before. They play key roles in this top league, so our goals should not be that low."
Youngster Raul Santos, born in the Dominican Republic, shares this opinion: "We have shown in the qualification, that no one should underestimate us.
"We have beaten Serbia and Russia and lost only one game in the entire qualification. So I guess, we are in a good shape. We definitely want to repeat the success of the EHF EURO 2010, where we ranked ninth in the end. Our main goal is to reach the main round."
Coach Patrekur Johannesson even will have plenty of players to choose from, as so many are in a perfect shape at the moment.
"We will find those 16 to 18 players in the final tests, and there will be some really hard decisions to be made,” says Johannesson, the second Icelandic in charge of Austria, after Dagur Sigurdsson had been the coach at the home EURO in 2010.
Raul Santos is especially looking forward to the third match of the preliminary round.
"FYR Macedonia are the ones, we are still looking for a sportive revenge after they kicked us out in the play-offs for the World Championship last year. We have beaten them already as well as the Czech Republic in January 2013."
All Austrian are already excited when they talk about the expected atmosphere in Herning: "Playing at an EHF EURO attended by 14,000 spectators is something really special, it is a rare opportunity for us. This is what we are looking for the most in Herning,” says Santos.
Focus of attention
On home ground, where usually everyone focusses on Alpine sports, the handball team caused a major interest being the first 'Olympic summer team sport' to qualify for a European Championship – a success that saw the rewarded with a fourth place at the 'best sports team of Austria' awards some weeks ago.
Despite this success coach Jóhannesson remains humble: "Austria is still a young and small handball nation, but we have been developing a lot in the last years.
"The EURO 2014 is the third major event with we qualified for within the last four years, that’s awesome.
"We have played a very good qualification. We have beaten big nations like Serbia or Russia and finished second in the group.
"I guess, no one would have expected that. But Denmark is a completely different event: in a group with the defending champions and hosts and two handball nations like Macedonia and the Czech Republic it will be hard, but I am not scared, that we cannot manage that."