SPORTS

Greece beats Estonia in Euro 2008 qualifier

The men’s national handball team defeated Estonia 31-23 in Thessaloniki on Saturday in a Group 6 Euro 2008 qualifier to make it two from two. The Greek team now faces two encounters against Portugal this Thursday and Sunday. The latest win came as an encouraging sign amid the Greek team’s attempt to maintain its team spirit now that most of its stars have signed with major clubs around Europe. Revision is needed if the team is to preserve or build on its recent successes at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the World Championships a year later. The Greek team ended a respectable sixth at both events. Back then, every national team member played club-level handball in Greece, which made the regrouping process for national team duty a relatively simple process. The Greek team would typically gather for an entire month before competition for preparations. With the club-level commitments of all players being local, the sport’s local federation could manage the national team’s affairs smoothly by interrupting the Greek competition to promote the national squad’s interests. Subsequently, the Greek team was a closely knit unit, players enjoyed daily contact, lots of training, and considerable friendly competition ahead of the real thing. As for today, some 90 percent of the team’s regular starters have moved to foreign clubs, primarily in Germany, Spain and Switzerland, where handball’s strongest leagues in the world are. On an individual level, the abilities of the foreign-based Greek players have risen to higher levels. Ironically, this personal gain stands as a threat to the national team because it may have lost some of its unity. With most of its players committed to major European clubs around the continent, the Greek team nowadays gets about a week, at most, to prepare for official games. The national team currently faces the challenges of a transitional stage, which it must overcome for more success in the future. New incentives are needed now that the majority of players have reached their objectives of transferring to prominent foreign clubs.