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Aktualisiert: 3. Dez. 2023

EHF / Björn Pazen

09 October 2023, 15:00

A Women’s EHF EURO 2024 Qualifier will open a new chapter of handball history on Wednesday (11 October) at 21:30 CEST in the Ithrottamidstod Hauka Asvellir arena in Hafnarfjordur – not for hosts Iceland, but for visitors Luxembourg. Never before has the Luxembourg women’s national team been part of the final phase of qualification for the European Championship.

When Tina Welter captains the Luxembourg team on court Wednesday, it will be an all-new experience to them. Luxembourg did participate in the IHF Challenge Trophy several times and in earlier phases of qualification for European or World Championships. But now they get to compete with the big names – and will face a lot of Nordic opposition in their Women's EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers: Besides Iceland, Luxembourg are set to meet Sweden and Faroe Islands in group 7. Luxembourg’s home premiere is on Sunday (15 October) in La Coque in the city of Luxembourg, when they face Sweden, the fifth-ranked team from the Women's EHF EURO 2022. Phase 1 of the qualification for the Women’s EHF EURO 2024 was called off regarding the number of team entering the competition. So, 31 teams all enter phase 2 – the qualifiers – this week in search of one of the 20 berths for the final tournament, as co-hosts Austria, Hungary, and Switzerland, as well as defending champions Norway have their places guaranteed in the final tournament, which features 24 teams for the first time. “This will be amazing experiences for us. We are there to learn, to see, how we can bridge the gap in the next few years, how we can improve our next generation to be competitive,” says left wing Tina Welter, looking forward to the duels with Iceland and Sweden. “We know that we are anything but the favourites in those two matches, but maybe we have a little chance to surprise Faroe Islands in the double-header in spring. They seem to be on equal level with us.” Welter had hoped for neighbouring countries such as Germany or France as Luxembourg’s qualification opponents. And she still dreams of having a match against Norway once in her life.

The team captain has 21 international games, which makes her the most experienced member of the Luxembourg squad. She had her first appearance 13 years ago, when she was still only 17.

“After we played a qualification tournament with Russia, Romania, and Finland, our federation decided to cancel the women’s national team,” Welter recalls.

“But we, the players, insisted on building a new national team. And finally, in 2017, the new project got started: We had a women’s national team again.”

Welter has not missed a match since. The first game of the newly formed team was a test against Guinea, in 2019, before Luxembourg played their first phase 1 qualification tournament for the Women’s EHF EURO 2020. And right at the start of this tournament in Greece, they won against Finland, with Welter becoming the top scorer with eight goals.

That win remains the only for Luxembourg in any official match since. They hosted a pre-qualification tournament for the World Championship in 2021, but lost against Israel, Slovakia, and Ukraine. And in the an early stage of qualification for the EHF EURO 2022, they were defeated by Portugal, Kosovo, and Cyprus.

Luxembourg’s last competitive matches were the 2021 World Championship play-offs against Ukraine in March 2023; three months later, Luxembourg were close to upsetting Belgium in a test match.

"This will be amazing experiences for us. We are there to learn, to see, how we can bridge the gap in the next few years, how we can improve our next generation to be competitive. We know that we are anything but the favourites in those two matches against Iceland and Sweden, but maybe we have a little chance to surprise Faroe Islands in the double-header in spring.

Tina Welter Luxembourg women's national team captain and left wing"

Welter herself was the first and only professional handball player from Luxembourg. After starting her career at HC Bascharage (today Handball Käerjeng) she played seven years in Germany – initially in the second division, then at first-league club Frisch Auf Göppingen. She was part of the sports programme of the Luxembourg army; nowadays she is a ‘normal’ soldier.

In 2021, she returned to Käerjeng and became national champion twice and won the cup once. Two weeks ago, Käerjeng played – and lost – their EHF European Cup round 2 matches against Greek side Thessaloniki, 50:40 on aggregate, despite 11 goals in total from Welter.

No member of Luxembourg’s squad plays abroad currently, as all players are signed by one of the only 16 domestic handball clubs registered in Luxembourg.

Since a few weeks, the national team has a new head coach in Frenchman Alexandre Scheubel, who replaced Romanian coach Adrian Stot, who previously also was in charge of Luxembourg men’s national team. The EHF EURO Qualifiers in Iceland and against Sweden will be his first ones in the new position.

“Alexandre brought a new philosophy, a new style of playing, mainly for our defence. And with him, the roster has changed. More clubs are represented in the national team, not only the two, three best clubs like Käerjeng, Red Boys, or Dudelange,” Welter says.

As Luxembourg is a small country, the national team gathers every Tuesday for a training session. Last week Monday, they have started their preparation camp for the EHF EURO Qualifiers.

For Welter, something like a dream comes true in Sunday’s match against Sweden, when she will play against “my favourite wing player” Nathalie Hagman.

“For most of our young players, Iceland and Sweden are the first big opponents in their career. But I hope that we can be a bit competitive – and we can see, what we need to improve for the future,” Welter says. “Especially we need to focus on the defence, not to lose by 20 or more goals.”

First opponents Iceland are a perfect example for Welter: “They managed to get on the handball map step-by-step, and have even qualified for some major tournaments. I hope we can go a similar way.”

Welter is an integral part of the future of women’s handball in Luxembourg – not only as one of two experienced players in the national team besides Kim Wirtz – but even more as the coach of the women’s under-17 team, the next generation.

And a personal milestone could be on is way, too. Already the all-time top scorer of her national team, Welter currently stands on 97 goals. To score her 100th career goal or Luxembourg in the Women’s EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers would only add more shine to her achievement.

Photos courtesy of Luxembourg Handball Federation; EHF archive

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