After almost 20 years out of major international competitions, Portuguese handball started to go to all of them. This Sunday, the Portuguese team secured qualification for next year’s European Championship, which will take place in Germany, by triumphing in Matosinhos over North Macedonia by 32-27 (15-11 at half-time), thus guaranteeing the leadership of the Group 1 which also includes Turkey and Luxembourg.
The first place in the group will no longer escape Paulo Jorge Pereira’s team, which has won the full four rounds already played. Between the 10th and the 28th of January of next year, Portugal will make its eighth appearance in the European Championships (and third consecutive), having so far the best participation in Euro 2020, in which it was in sixth place. This is also the sixth consecutive qualification for a major competition, all obtained in the last four years – Euros 2020, 2022 and 2024, World Cups 2021 and 2023, and Olympic Games 2021.
It turned out to be an outcome that was more than expected and widely celebrated by the thousands of Portuguese fans present at the Matosinhos pavilion. But it wasn’t always a one-way game as the result suggests. For long periods of the first half, the Macedonian formation balanced operations and had several moments ahead of the marker.
The Portuguese team did not have a good start to the game, especially with flaws in the offensive definition, and the Balkan team took advantage of this to gain a slight rise. In the first minutes, they even had a two-goal advantage (1-3), which was only not greater because Gustavo Capdeville was inspired by the Portuguese goal.
It didn’t take long for Portugal to take the lead, with Iturriza, Miguel Martins and Luís Frade making the difference in attack. There was still some balance in the result, but Portugal closed the first half with a 5-0 partial (with three goals from Leonel Fernandes) that left the game well under way.
Contrary to what had happened at the beginning, the national team started well in the second half, making a difference that allowed Paulo Pereira to rotate more in the “seven”, even betting on some “seven to six” situations. And the difference remained generous, proof of any surprise.
The proof of the good collective performance of the national team is that there was no player with more than four goals scored (there were five that reached this mark), but almost all the field players hit the opposing goal. In the Portuguese goal, Gustavo Capdeville performed at a great level, with 14 saves in 31 shots, an efficiency of 44%. On the side of North Macedonia, Filip Kuzmanovski, a left-back who plays in Germany, was the top scorer, with ten goals.