23 Jan. 2023
Returning to the IHF Men's World Championship for the first time since 1961, the Netherlands confirmed that they are one of the emerging powers in Europe, delivering another good championship one year after finishing in tenth place at the EHF EURO 2022.
The Dutch side, with a new coach in Sweden's legend Staffan Olsson at the helm, might sneak into the top 10 at Poland/Sweden 2023 if they snatch a win against Serbia in the last match of the Main Round Group III in Katowice.
But even if they do not seal that final win, their performance has been special, hitting plenty of milestones in the tournament – their first win in history, their 100th goal in the competition and progressing from the preliminary round for the first time.
Sure, when talking about the Netherlands, all eyes are on Luc Steins and Kay Smits, their two stars who are featuring prominently at club level for France's champions PSG Handball and Germany's champions SC Magdeburg respectively.
However, there are other stories to be told from this exciting new squad on the block, like Samir Benghanem's. The 29-year-old line player has been an integral part of the Netherlands' success in the last few years and has been in fine form at Poland/Sweden 2023 with 15 goals, six assists, four steals and four blocked shots, impressing on both sides of the ball.
The catch? Well, while Smits and Steins are featuring in the top competitions in the world week after week, Benghanem is playing for Dutch side Green Park/Handbal Aalsmeer, mixing handball with his day-to-day job – that of a tax advisor in a major financial firm in The Hague, the Dutch administrative capital and financial centre.
"It is an interesting act of balancing a day job and handball, but it works out pretty well, I would say. I got a lot of leeway from the guys at the job, I could work it out very well with them, so I had the preparation, I got the days off for the World Championship, and here I am, just being here and soaking it all up, enjoying every minute of it," says Benghanem.
"I am working during the day and going to training and matches in the evening or at the weekends. Everybody understands it, so the arrangement is good for all the parties involved. I am also throwing some handball in the mix, watching it on TV whenever I have the time, so it is perfect."
Despite not featuring in a strong team at club level, Benghanem is the perfect complement to the speed and creativity of the professional players in the Netherlands' squad, offering knowhow and physicality in defence, both much-needed qualities in modern handball.
Based in The Hague, the 29-year-old line player has attracted some interest from teams all over Europe due to his excellent matches, but politely declined all the offers he received due to his commitment to his day job.
"There were some interesting offers, but I could not leave my job because I love what I am doing. I am in a good place and it would not have worked for me and for my life. Therefore, I decided to stay in the Netherlands and balance the act," adds Benghanem.
At Poland/Sweden 2023, he ranks in the top 10 for shots blocked and in the top 15 for steals. His defensive nous worked wonders for the Netherlands, who snatched wins against Argentina, North Macedonia and Qatar but fell short against Norway and Germany.
In particular, the match against Norway was a painful defeat (26:27), with the Scandinavian side emerging victorious due to their depth and experience, qualities that the Netherlands are only developing now, as more and more players embrace handball and enter the fray.
"We have a very, very good team. It is clear that we have made some big steps in the last few years and we can become even better because we are now measuring up with some of the best teams in the world. Whether we win or lose, we embrace the process because in the end it will only make us better," adds Benghanem.
"The quality is there; I mean, we are all seeing how Luc [Steins] and Kay [Smits] are playing and this is only the beginning for us. As a team we can only get better in the future."
The Dutch side received a Wild Card for Poland/Sweden 2023 after being eliminated by Portugal in a crunch doubleheader in the Qualification Europe Part 2 in March 2022. Still, they came into the competition motivated and with an improved mentality.
Their results make for interesting reading and the Netherlands are surely a team to watch, mirroring the development of the women's team, which after several medals at major competitions finally won the trophy at the 2019 IHF Women's World Championship.
While Benghanem might not be a professional, he is still one of the pillars of the squad and has not played like a part-time player at Poland/Sweden 2023. And there is the catch.
"If you do it with your heart open and pour everything you have on the court, the success will come," concludes the Dutch line player.