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Handballers set sights on Europe

Swiss coach Arno Ehret is looking forward to his European challenge Keystone

The Swiss national handball team face a tough challenge on Thursday as they begin the qualifying stages for the 2002 European Championships.

Arno Ehret’s side start their campaign with a tricky home tie against Lithuania. Along with the former World Champions of Romania, the Lithuanians are expected to present the biggest obstacle to Swiss participation in this summer’s qualification play-offs.

Ehret believes that the Lithuanians play to a similar standard as the Ukrainian national side, who comfortably beat Switzerland in the last World Championship play-offs.

As well as having to cope with strong opposition, the Swiss team have recently had to come to terms with a number of retirements, withdrawals and injury problems.

But despite the loss of such key players as Marc Baumgartner, Carlos Lima and Matthias Zumstein, Ehret insists he is looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“We no longer have any outstanding individuals in the team,” Ehret admitted. “No one man will lead the team, but instead all the players will have to help each other. That could also be an incentive for them.”

Despite the coach’s emphasis on team play, the Swiss side will be hoping for another strong showing from the in-form Pascal Jenny, who is expected to lead the attack alongside Zeno Läber.

The experience of team captain Robbie Kostadinovich could also help Switzerland spring an upset, if the Suhr playmaker can shake off a neck injury in time for the Lithuania match.

At 27, Kostadinovich is the second oldest player in the squad and the only member of the current team to have been playing when Switzerland last stepped into the international limelight, at the 1996 Olympics.

The Swiss will be relying on strong home performances, beginning with Thursday’s match in Stäfa, if they are to have any chance of finishing in the group’s top two places.

In between their matches against Lithuania and Romania, Switzerland will also be looking for two wins over the group minnows of the Faroe Islands.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR