How do you stop two unstoppable attacks at the M20 EHF EURO 2022?
With just six seconds left in the preliminary round match of the M20 EHF EURO 2022 between Portugal and Spain, the game was tied, 35:35. Having already scored 13 goals, right back Francisco Mota da Costa received the ball one more time from his brother, Martim Mota da Costa, in a desperate attempt to give Portugal the win.
Losing his balance, the 17-year-old right back still managed to get the shot in and scored, helping Portugal seal their third consecutive win at the M20 EHF EURO 2022.
Few would have thought that Portugal and Spain would meet again. Even fewer people believed that their next game will decide who wins the competition. But here they are, the top two attacks in the competition, the teams which dazzled and confused their opponents, ready to lock horns once again for the gold medal.
For Portugal, this will be their second final at the M20 EHF EURO, after losing the one played in 2010, against Denmark. On the other hand, Spain can seal their third trophy if they win on Sunday, yet the ask will be high for "Los Hispanos".
"I will not be disappointed if the game is totally different, but the result is the same. That would mean that we will be the champions," said Carlos Martingo, Portugal's coach, who has nurtured this amazing generation and made a whole country dream.
Indeed, Portugal's ascension has been nothing short of spectacular. It is easy to pinpoint the pair of brothers, Francisco and Martim Mota da Costa, as the engines who keep the team running, but goalkeeper Diogo Marques has also been stellar throughout the six games played at the M20 EHF EURO 2022.
Backed by a superb and loyal fanbase, Portugal have shone in attack and in defence, winning games in every possible fashion. There have been routs – 41:31 against Poland and 35:26 against Norway – or close calls, like the game against Spain and the semi-final against Sweden, 25:24.
“Francisco and Martim are two of the top players in the competition. We learnt it ourselves, during the match we played against them, so we need to leave little space in defence and contain them. It will be difficult, but this is key to what we are trying to do,” said Rodrigo Renones, Spain’s coach.
Portugal won due to their amazing attack, which constantly finds creative ways to score, but also thanks to their defence, which has been top notch at times. A superb spirit, a close bond in the team and some luck also played their part to complete a winning puzzle.
"It has been a good tournament for us, we have played some very good games and managed to win even when we were not at our top level, fulfilling our potential. Now we move on to the final and we are playing against a team that we know very well," added Martingo.
Indeed, Portugal and Spain are not only neighbours. They have developed somewhat of a rivalry in the past years, with the current hosts of the competition really delivering great performances at this level over the years.
"We know each other very well, we met in this tournament, but also in previous games, so the teams know what the opponent will do. The pressure is bigger at this stage, we are happy to be here, but we also want to win the gold medal. It would be a great thing for our side,” added Rodrigo Renones.
However, the test against Spain will once again be a tough ask, as the two sides will provide one of the most exciting matches at the M20 EHF EURO 2022, if not the most exciting, just a few days after the first face off between the two teams.
While Slovenia and Norway delivered the match with the most goals in the competition – 76 – Portugal are close behind (73 vs Poland and 71 vs Spain), with Spain (74 vs Denmark) even closer.
This may well be the highest-scoring final in the history of the competition. The current record was set at the M20 EHF EURO 2018, when Slovenia won the gold medal against France, 31:30.
So can the two teams stop each other in the final?
"We know them very well, so we must not provide gifts throughout the game, on both sides of the ball. They are very, very good on fast breaks, therefore we need to stop them. We need to run a lot, to be fast, to take care of the ball and concede a low amount of turnovers."
"Spain are an amazing side, so they are just ready to score a lot of goals and punish our mistakes," said Martingo.
Indeed, no team at the M20 EHF EURO 2022 has scored more goals than Spain, who have been both entertaining and amazingly efficient in attack.
"Los Hispanos" are the only side to score over 200 goals in the competition – 218 to be more precise – for an average of 36.3 goals per game. With 196 goals scored at an average of 32.6 goals per game, Portugal come in second.
However, Portugal have fared better in defence, where they conceded 169 goals, an average of 28.1 goals per game, while Spain have an average of 31 goals conceded per game, a somewhat uninspiring stat.
"This is the final, so the pressure will be bigger. Therefore, we need to focus more and try to play our best game. In defence, there is no way we can leave space open for Portugal, because they will exploit it with their great players."
"Where we have an advantage, from my point of view, is in the depth department. We can rotate players more, Portugal’s level drops a bit when the Mota da Costa brothers are not on the court. Sure, they are a very good team, they have very good players, but I think that we have a better depth," concluded Renones.