Knedlikova bids fond farewell to Czech career

EHF / Joanne Harris

Next Tuesday's home game in the 2023 IHF Women's World Championship qualification will be a bittersweet affair for the Czech Republic, regardless of the result against Switzerland - as it will double as a farewell for right wing Jana Knedlikova.

Knedlikova has announced her international retirement, 15 years after first donning a Czech jersey. She will remain a presence on the European handball scene for her club Vipers Kristiansand, currently on the hunt for a third successive EHF Champions League title.

The 33-year-old will not play in this week's World Championship qualification matches, but Tuesday's home game in Brno (11 April, 19:30 CEST) will be an opportunity for her to say goodbye to Czech fans, and for them to thank her for her time on the team.

Knedlikova made her debut for her country in 2008 and over the years played at five major championships for the team: the EHF EURO in 2012, 2016, 2018 and 2020, and the 2013 World Championship. Along the way she notched up 124 caps and scored 265 goals.

She told the Czech Handball Federation she had been thinking about retirement since the qualification stage for the 2021 World Championship, but age had caught up with her.

"I would like to say that representing your country is a huge honour. I appreciate that I could be in the national team. If time were to stop and I wouldn't age, I would happily continue to represent," Knedlikova said.  

She added it was "time to give space to new players", noting that her body was no longer able to deal with the gruelling schedule of club and international games together. However, Knedlikova has few regrets with a career which has seen her win five EHF Champions League titles in total for Györi Audi ETO KC and Vipers, along with multiple domestic league titles in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Norway.

"Looking back, my career was seriously more than dreamy," she admitted. "Now, of course, I hope to win the Champions League for the sixth time.

"The only thing I miss and regret is the fact that we never managed to get to the Olympics with the national team. It's probably every athlete's dream, it's an unforgettable experience. But the path to qualification tends to be extremely complex and demanding. I don't know if it could have been real, one must dream anyway."

Knedlikova said her best memory was qualifying for the EHF EURO in 2012, as it brought the Czechs back to the international elite after a decade away. 

"Suddenly we could play against the girls from TV. At that time, we had Serbian, Norwegian and Ukrainian women in the group, so top teams. And we managed to advance from the group," she remembered.

The star said she was looking forward to watching the development of the next generation of Czech players, starting with the confrontation with Switzerland. The first leg is in Basel on Saturday 8 April at 15:00 CEST, followed by the return leg on Tuesday.

"Switzerland has invested in a program to develop female players, they are making great progress. The match will certainly not be easy, but if the girls are themselves and play collectively, I think they have it in their hands. And they will fight, I have no doubt. I think it is definitely better to play the second leg at home," Knedlikova said. 

"It will definitely be difficult for me. When you're not playing and watching from the outside, it's maybe even worse than being on the field. I'll be cheering for the girls a lot, only this time I'll be in the stands," she added.

Although Knedlikova said she was not sure what to expect from her official farewell, she is hoping the fans will turn out for the women as they did for the Czech men in their 22:17 win over Iceland in March's EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers. 

"Czech fans are unique in the world and it would be nice if the match looked the same," she concluded.

Photos courtesy of the Czech Handball Federation

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