On a scale from one to ten, the coach would give the team a nine (Photo: MKSZ/Kovács Anikó)


– On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate this World Championship?
– A nine! – Chema Rodríguez, the head coach of the Hungarian men's handball team, answered Nemzeti Sport's question. – Though I think that by end of the tournament we forgot our initial goal that we wanted to be in the final eight and earn an Olympic qualification place. We succeeded in them, and let's look at the teams that missed the quarterfinals: Iceland, Portugal, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Serbia, and Brazil. They're not worse than us. Let's appreciate that, let's not be discontented, because any of us would have liked that result before the World Championship.

– But the question is, how competitive is the team?
– In the quarterfinals, we played terribly against Denmark, I was very disappointed. Against Norway, though, we played at the level we are capable of, they only broke down in the second half, which was a sign that we can compete with better teams than us and I believe we can improve. The game against Portugal was not easy either, but the basic situation was different there: we tried and tried but nothing worked and after a while it became clear that we couldn't do it. But we kept fighting, we didn't give up, that's the mentality we lacked against Denmark, and that's why I was so nervous.

– Was the team scared of the now three-time world champion Denmark?
– No, it's not that. It's more that by reaching the quarterfinals, everyone was perhaps subconsciously relaxed, even though I know the boys didn't want to hold back. Mentally we weren't ready to fight against the best team in the world, but I'm sure it was a very good experience because we won't play like that next time we're against them.

– Which of the nine matches did you like the most?
– I would say the one against Iceland when we played a great game. However, I'll choose the match we played against Brazil because we were in control throughout although the pressure was greater than against Iceland. Nobody should think that Brazil is not a strong and big team because they are. We played well, but it's just as important that we won a difficult game knowing we had to win. The situation was similar against Cape Verde, and the guys were able to handle the situation then, too.

– Could you rotate your team the way you wanted to?
– I like this team, but we must see that there is a big difference between the individual players, and I have to judge during the game whom I can throw in and whom I can't. There is a good example, Zoran Ilic not only got along, but he played every game with Gabi Ancsin in the right-back position, and we can't say that he had a bad World Championship at the age of twenty-one... But it's not only the coach who has to boost the players' confidence but vice versa, the player has to prove himself to the coach. I have to find a balance between giving everyone enough playing time, and they have to improve in that as well, but so do we as the coaching staff.

If it was necessary, he showed them in training what he would like to see (Photo: MKSZ/Kovács Anikó)


– What is the situation with the wingers?
– Bendegúz Bóka on one side and Rodríguez Pedro on the other are the number one, and maybe they could be replaced by others in attack, but certainly not in defense. It's not easy to change the line-up, because, for example, we need Patrik Ligetvári, to have four central defenders. Then, we need three pivot players to play in six-against-seven situations, so I also need Szöllősi, who is a different type of player in his position than the others. I have to take all these into account, and as I can only call up sixteen players for the match, as head coach I have to make the decision.

– Was the team's performance sometimes erratic within a match? What can you do about it to be as stable as the best teams?
– I sometimes feel we are looking at things from the wrong perspective: we shouldn't be comparing ourselves to Sweden, Spain, France, or Denmark, who have been in the finals of world tournaments for years. Let's look at how many of their players are in the Champions League, Europa League, or the Bundesliga, and how many from us do – their whole squad does whereas we only have a few, and often they don't play enough. We should not compare ourselves with these national teams, because it's impossible. It's important to know where we stand.

– When can we catch up with them?
– We need to work on getting the young players up to that level as soon as possible, get them playing in international cups, against tough opponents, in tough matches, and then they will really develop. Roland Mikler, Máté Lékai or Gábor Ancsin will not play forever, the new generation has to come, and they can only be effectively integrated into the Hungarian national team if they play at the club level in Europe, too. Physically, I don't think we have a problem, our strength coach Tord Ellingsen is doing a great job, which is evident from the fact that in our ninth game against Egypt we still ran the same way, although we need to improve in order to concentrate the same way.

– Was the final eight too tough for us?
– It was for now, that's the truth. Everyone should be aware of that even if we deserved to be in the last eight, so let's not forget that either. Portugal, for example, was great against us, but then their performance plummeted, while we held up against South Korea, Iceland, Brazil, and Cape Verde. We even fought like a team to the end against Egypt, who played in the Olympic semifinals last time.

– Are you satisfied with your first world championship result as head coach?
– I love working with these guys, and I'm happy to be part of this family. I feel like we are doing a good job, so yes, I am satisfied, not only because we achieved the goal set by the Hungarian Handball Federation, but also because it turned out that we can do it, we can qualify for the Olympic qualifiers, and we have a chance to qualify for the Olympics as well. The last three games of the World Championship may make some people look back on the last few weeks with a bad taste in their mouths but let's never forget who we are and what we have achieved so far. Could we have done better? We certainly could have. Do we still need to improve in many areas? Of course! But no one can say of the Hungarian players that they didn't give their all.

1. Denmark
2. France
3. Spain
4. Sweden
5. Germany
6. Norway
7. Egypt
9. Croatia
10. Slovenia
11. Serbia
12. Iceland
13. Portugal
14. Netherlands
15. Poland
16. Bahrein
17. Brazil
18. Montenegro
19. Argentina
20. United States
21. Belgium
22. Qatar
23. Cape Verde
24. Iran
25. Tunisia
26. Chile
27. North Macedonia
28. South Korea
29. Saudi Arabia
30. Morocco