07 Aug. 2019
After finishing in 11th place at the Men’s U18 EURO in Croatia last year, Portugal knew that their chance to qualify for the 2019 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship in North Macedonia had slipped through their fingers.
But when a substitute spot became available in place of the Oceania continent, the Portuguese Handball Federation gladly accepted the offer and their U19 men’s team now find themselves having played one and won one in Skopje, after a 33:26 (18:15) defeat of Germany, who finished sixth in Croatia last year.
“We have the talent to be here,” said Portugal captain Filipe Morais to IHF.info after his sides’ opening day victory. “Unfortunately, we could not qualify directly from the EURO, but we were lucky that Oceania could not participate. But we are here now, and we have to prove that this is where we should be.”
The 19-year-old, who plays his club handball for Porto, revealed that his team went into the game feeling like underdogs, but that they were extra motivated – like Denmark were at the 2019 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship in Spain last month – to prove they belonged on the global stage despite not directly qualifying.
“Yes, of course we feel the same,” said Morais if he felt his side had something to prove like Denmark admitted to IHF.info they did in Spain. “We did not accomplish our expectations at the EURO. We needed to clear our heads from the EURO and start over again because we know we have the talent that is needed to win these matches [here in Skopje].
“But we were not favourites for the Germany match because of those EURO results,” he continued. “However, we played very well in the first half and in the second half too and in the end we got the win. We are feeling very good, but we are taking it game-by-game.”
At Spain 2019, Portugal’s U21 side made it all the way to the bronze medal match only to lose and finish fourth, but despite that disappointment on missing out on a medal, Morais and his teammates have been watching their older countrymen with pride but know that North Macedonia 2019 has to be taken one game at a time.
“Of course they inspire us, they are one of the best teams in the world,” said the left wing about the Portugal U21 side. “A while ago they were not one of the top teams but as they have grown up they have become better and better and that is our goal to be just like them or even better.
“Here in Skopje we need to go step-by-step,” he added. “First of all we want to pass the group stage and then it will be match by match and every game will be a final for us.”
And as captain, Morais has added responsibilities on and off court. So what does he see that role as?
“I try to keep my team motivated even when things are not going the way that we want,” said the captain, who scored four against Germany.
“I am the person that needs to be aware of what is going on and motivate them. When someone misses the goal I need to motivate them and keep the team motivation on a high level.”
With motivation in abundance and that strong start to proceedings in their group, Portugal could be one of the teams to watch in Skopje as the tournament – and temperature outside in the North Macedonian capital – starts to warm up.
Photo: WCH 2019 / Filip Viranovski