Australia drew with the eventual winners of the IHF Emerging Nations Men’s Championship, the Faroe Islands, recorded a big win against Armenia and finished with their only loss of the group phase against hosts Kosovo, but it was not enough to earn a spot in the qualification phase.
Instead the team took to the court for three placement matches, which saw Australia emerge victorious after facing Albania, a tough loss in the highly anticipated match against Great Britain, and finally a tense game against Bulgaria that ended with a penalty shootout.
Australia vs. Albania 30:22 (17:11)
A move to Gjakova for the placement round meant the team were a bit lacklustre on court, but it was enough to finish their first match of the next phase with a win. The stars against Albania were goalkeepers Ben Fogerty and Avery Edmunds.
Gjakova’s position so close to the Albania-Kosovo border meant the majority of the crowd were visibly behind the local side, so Australia had a tough game on their hands while Albania were buoyed by the support.
After the match coach Jan Ottosen’s said he was pleased with the win, but there were parts of Australia’s game that would need improvement:
“This game was good – to get two wins in a row, but our defence will need to be worked on if we are to play well versus our next opponents (Great Britain). Overall, I am happy that we won the game.”
“The boys started slowly today, but we managed to get the win which made the team happy. We tried our best, but we will need to improve a lot if we want to win tomorrow,” said pivot Callum Mouncey.
Australia vs. Great Britain 26:32 (14:12)
Despite a long-running rivalry in many other sports, Australia and Great Britain have rarely met on the handball court, so this particular match was preceded with much anticipation from both sides – and supporters at home in each country.
Australia were in command for most of the match, leading by two at half-time (14:12) and holding on to their advantage into the last ten minutes of the game.
But Australia ran out of steam as the minutes ticked down and a late surge from Great Britain proved fatal. The last eight goals of the match belonged to Great Britain, earning them the win that had looked to be so within Australia’s reach.
“I was very happy with the game for 52 minutes, of what was in my opinion, perfect handball. The last eight minutes we didn’t do so well and ended up losing the game.
“Our discipline was great for the first 52 minutes, and tomorrow we will need to make that a full 60 minutes,” said Ottosen after the game.
Tommy Fletcher and Tomasz Szklarsi scored six goals to be Australia’s highest scorers against Great Britain.
“Today was very disappointing for the team, leading most of the match, and then losing it in the last few minutes.
“I am proud of the boys for trying, but we will need to play for the full 60 minutes if we want to win games,” said Fletcher.
Australia vs. Bulgaria 35:36 (32:32, 15:19)
After the disappointing loss against Great Britain, Australia had to refocus their attention onto their final placement match – the 11/12 play-off against Bulgaria.
Australia took the lead quickly before Bulgaria kicked into gear and claimed the advantage. Bulgaria then led for most of the match, but Australia fought to keep pace and were rewarded when Daniel Fogerty levelled the score in the final minutes.
Bulgaria had time for one more attack, but Australia’s defence prevailed and the match went into a penalty shootout, which ended 3:4 in Bulgaria’s favour.
“It was great to play such a tough game, and to get a goal at an important time of the match made me very happy. It was a shame to lose in the shootout after we made a good comeback, but today it wasn’t meant to be,” said Daniel Fogerty.
Despite the loss, coach Ottosen felt positive about the team’s final game of the championship:
“I am happy with the boys and their effort and discipline today. It was a shame we lost the shootout, but that happens in sport.
“I am proud of the boys this tournament and am looking forward to playing together again in Qatar.”
Written by: Courtney Gahan in conjunction with Team Manager Lucas Hayden