After surpassing all expectations and showing great resistance in their Group D loss against France (18:21), the Slovakian women's national team had a day to remember on Tuesday when they visited a small Slovakian village called Josipovac, just outside the Women's EHF EURO 2014 host city Osijek.
Located 12 kilometres away from Osijek, Josipovac is a small community of great importance for the Slovakian cultural heritage.
Josipovac has been the gathering point for all Slovaks in Croatia over the past ten years, and it has become the landmark of every visit for their men's national handball team in recent years.
A taste of home
Slovakia's women's national team now used the opportunity to visit this tradition-rich village for the first time.
"At first, the players didn't know about this village, but as soon as we arrived people greeted us with so much warm feelings, we've immediately felt at home," said Martin Simonides, the Secretary General of the Slovakian Handball Federation.
"The local people showed us around the village. We have been to schools, and the players were very happy to take pictures with the kids," continued Simondes, also revealing why the visit to Josipovac felt like a home away from home.
"The local people have organised a traditional Slovakian folklore. The players were shown the Slovakian church, where they could also go for prayer," he said.
"We were welcomed with our traditional food, but the players only tried a little bit, because they were very professional - although the coaches and I could enjoy it more," Martin Simonides added.
The visit to Josipovac came at the best possible time for the team's young players, after they have had their baptism of fire at their opening Women's EHF EURO 2014 Group D match against France (18:21) on Monday.
"This is exactly what our team needed at this moment. The players will feel encouraged by our visit, and the feeling of home they experienced in Josipovac," said Simonides.
"In our previous match, we saw our big chance, as France didn't play very well. Our young players met their highly talented team and we didn't expect much, but our players left the match with positive feelings," added Simonides.
Enjoying the EHF EURO experience
The game against France was also the first Women's EHF EURO appearance for Slovakia in twenty years, after they finished 12th in 1994, but the team is currently thriving on this new experience.
"It is a huge thing for us, to be at the EHF EURO. Our results will only get better in the future," stated Simonides, also mentioning a huge bond the Slovakian Handball Federation has with the Slovaks from Josipovac.
"We know these people since 2009; we have a special relationship with the local population. We have invited them, and they will come to support us at our games here, starting from the match against Montenegro (on Wednesday)," spoke Simonides, and briefly commented on the upcoming Women's EHF EURO 2014 Group D encounter against Montenegro.
"We have to repeat the fight we had yesterday. We cannot outrun them, but our coach is very smart, he knows what to do," concluded Simonides.