Chile's path towards ascension starts at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023
03 Dec. 2023
A 25-goal loss against Romania was hardly the start which Chile envisioned when they celebrated qualification to the 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship, one of the biggest performances in the history of the South American side, which returned to the world handball flagship competition after a 14-year hiatus.
Last time Chile were here, it was their debut, at China 2009, when they lost eight of the nine matches they played, including 34-goal losses against Hungary and Romania and a 29-goal loss against Norway.
“It feels amazing to be here again, on the biggest stage, and this is a learning experience for all of us, especially for the girls who are still playing in Chile. We are proud to represent our country at such a level and learn so many things, play against some of the best teams in the world. Just look in our group, you have Romania, you have Denmark, you have Serbia, all sides with plenty of experience,” says Chile’s right back, Valeska Lovera.
Lovera was only 11 years old when Chile last played at the IHF Women’s World Championship, but was already thinking about becoming a professional player, especially since she started playing handball when she was only five years old.
The players from the qualified team in 2009 instantly became role models, just like the Feuchtmann brothers, the Salinas brothers or Marco Oneto became trailblazers for young boys, as handball in Chile grew more and more.
“To be honest, 2023 has been excellent for women’s handball in Chile. All our three teams – the senior, the junior and the youth – have qualified for the World Championship at their age categories. That is a huge success in itself for everybody here and it looks women’s handball has a future in Chile,” adds Lovera.
“This is a huge step forward and can serve as a motivation for other players to start playing, it can really be a domino effect, which can be an amazing thing for women’s handball in our country.”
Emerging nations like Chile have been soaking up the experience of the IHF Women’s World Championship since the format has been expanded to 32 teams and Felipe Barrientos’ side has made it here after securing the second place at the 2023 Central American Championship, where they only lost against another South American side present at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023, Paraguay.
Now, Chile are facing tough competition at the 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship and will likely head to the President’s Cup, where they can measure up against more likeminded teams, after facing Romania, Denmark and Serbia.
When asked about the clash against Denmark, Lovera answers with a smile upon her face.
“We will need some good luck wishes,” says the right back, before continuing: “They are one of the top teams in the world, they are playing at home, so they will give everything and try and win big for their fans. We will play our part and hope everything turns out well.”
Lovera is one of the few Chile players who are plying her trade outside of the South American country, having been in Spain for nearly seven years now. She signed for Valladolid when she was only 18 years old and has been featuring at her current club, Beti-Onak, in Navarra, the Basque Country, since 2020.
Last season, she was one of the top scorers of the team, with 87 goals, and in the current season she has scored 22 times, being one of the best 70 scorers in the Spanish first league, where Lovera has earned a boatload of experience over the past years.
“Of course, this has been a steep learning curve and the experience I got here was priceless. Indeed, I have learnt a lot and it was hugely important for me to develop as a player and as a human being, because the Spanish league is a good one and there are many good players featuring here,” adds the Chilean player.
But with Chile being on the other side of the world, this experience and the path chosen by Lovera can be tough and taxing at times.
“I miss home at times, that is for certain, but this is what I chose and this is what I feel good doing, so right now, I will just continue. Being here, at the IHF Women’s World Championship, and being able to represent Chile is a huge honour, therefore I hope to play well,” says the right back.
So far, Chile have won only one match in history at the IHF Women’s World Championship, against Australia, in 2009, having lost the other nine by a combined margin of 191 goals. Yet with the South American side now facing three consecutive World Championship editions – Senior, Junior and Youth – over the next nine months, the future looks bright.
And Lovera, who is now 25 years old, might just be there to lead it for Chile.