While 20 years ago it might have been strange for a coach to face his parent country in the EHF EURO, this is now the norm.
This European Championship features three such instances, with Ambros Martin, the current Russian coach, facing Spain; Kim Rasmussen, Montenegro’s coach, meeting hosts Denmark; and Arne Senstad, who will make his debut for Poland against Norway.
Senstad, 51, took over the Polish women’s national team in 2019, after serving as a club coach in Norway for more than a decade. But he faces a huge uphill challenge, with crucial players including Karolina Kudłacz-Gloc, Monika Kobylinska and Kinga Achruk out for the EHF EURO.
Yet Senstad will look to maximise the team’s potential and build with an eye towards the future, with the game against Norway serving as an emotional roller-coaster for the 51-year old coach.
ehf-euro.com: How did Poland prepare for the EHF EURO 2020?
Arne Senstad: We know our place in the tournament and we know that we might be one of the lower-tiered teams, because we had big problems with injuries and players who are going to be missing in the EHF EURO 2020. We are prepared mentally for a tough tournament, with difficult opponents, but we are truly happy to be here and compete with the other 15 best nations in Europe.
It will be a new step for us, we must build something for the future of Polish handball and our new players must take responsibility, replacing the ones who are not able to play here. All in all, it looks like a serious challenge for us.
ehf-euro.com: You will make your debut at the EHF EURO as a coach against your home country, Norway. Will it be a tough challenge for you, personally?
Arne Senstad: I think we are facing the best team in the world, and, coincidentally, it is Norway, which is my home country. Talk about emotions.
It will be an interesting game for me, I have never experienced a match like this until now. But, from an objective standpoint, right now they are at another level that us, focusing to winning another gold medal, while Poland is just trying to build something for the future.
We do not have the same quality now, I am not afraid, I am not worried, I just hope we will fight until the end. I am hoping that our team will do their best and see what comes from it. Sure, the difference can be big, but I do believe that if we play good, we can minimise the damage.
ehf-euro.com: Are Norway the toughest team you could have met in the first game of the EHF EURO 2020?
Arne Senstad: It is not a team that only has one good player, they have a plethora of great players, I mean just look at their player list. Just looking at their line players: Heidi Løke is the best in the world, Kari Brattset probably the second best, while Marit Malm Frafjord completes the top three.
As a playmaker, Stine Bredal Oftedal is next to none, Nora Mørk and Veronica Kristiansen are also amazing, so wherever you look, there is somebody who can decide a game in their favour. So, it is a big challenge for us, especially with our roster being thinned down.
ehf-euro.com: Will the anthems be emotional for you?
Arne Senstad: I do not think it will be emotional, I think it is more about feeling proud about what I have accomplished during my career. Both anthems will be special, I am now representing Poland and I will feel the same when the Polish anthem will be sung. It is not about emotions, it is about handball and being proud both for being Norwegian and coaching Poland.
ehf-euro.com: How far can Poland go in the tournament?
Arne Senstad: I am firm with both feet on the ground and I do not want to sound disheartened, but I think that if we win one game in the EHF EURO 2020, it will be a big surprise.
We should focus on playing our best handball here and try to sustain the best rhythm, but it will be very hard against strong opponents as Norway, Germany and Romania. But surprises happen all the time in handball, so do not count us out.