Andreas Wolff sat on the bench for ten minutes and stared ahead. He seemed sour, who could blame him, only a substitute at the start of the European Championships, Wolff, the best and most famous German handball goalkeeper, had imagined that differently. Instead of him there was surprisingly Till Klimpke between the posts, the young man from HSG Wetzlar, with less than ten international matches under his belt.
Wolff sat there and saw Klimpke throwing himself at the Belarusians’ balls. But the throws hissed past him, right, left, down. Seven throws, seven goals conceded.
For a long time, the team of the German Handball Federation (DHB) had a hard time with the opponent, but in the end it was for the newly formed, significantly younger team of national coach Alfred Gislason the very important opening win at the European Handball Championships in Hungary and Slovakia. The 33:29 (17:18) in front of 1291 spectators in Bratislava was a very hard piece of work, but also a success that makes you want to appear again at this European Championship. “We won the first game, that’s good, although we didn’t start well at all,” said Kai Häfner, the German player with the most accuracy with eight goals, on ARD.
It runs best on the right side, via Häfner and Steinert
Gislason had presented the full breadth of his renovated squad at the start of the tournament. After the cancellations of a number of established players from Hendrik Pekeler to Paul Drux, he called up nine tournament debutants; many young players who may have the future but who have their first major international role ahead of them. So Klimpke started in goal, while Christoph Steinert from Erlangen, who was also internationally inexperienced, played on the right wing, although many had expected Timo Kastening. The start was very nervous, early hits by Kai Häfner and Philipp Weber brought little security, quite the opposite. At first only Belarus played, the Germans conceded many easy goals over the circle, because they couldn’t get a grip on circle player Artsem Karalek at all. 2:7 after eleven minutes, a false start.
So Gislason reacted and brought Andreas Wolff. He immediately parried the first ball, fist up. Go then!
But the opening game wasn’t much easier for the German team, even with Wolff. Gislason had warned against Belarus, a well-established side peppered with players from top Eastern European teams like Vive Kielce. Belarus isn’t one of the title contenders at this European Championship, but it’s not far behind either. An unpleasant opponent, also trained by a real smart fox of world handball: the coach Yuri Schewzow, who is well known in Germany.
It was only after about 20 minutes that the German team was back; Wolff got into the game better than Klimpke, the attack mostly went down the right flank, Häfner and Steinert scored the badly needed goals. After 21 minutes the first lead for the German team, Häfner on Steinert, 11:10.
After the game, Gislason explains the maneuver with Wolff
At half-time, the Germans had conceded the unacceptable number of 18 goals, which is why the plan for the second half was clearly defined: stand better at the back, don’t lose your nerve at the front. It took a few minutes into the second half before the game tipped in the desired direction for the first time. Wolff dived and fished a cast out of danger on the bottom right; up front left winger Marcel Schiller (eight goals, five of which were seven meters), backcourt shooter Julius Kühn (six) and pivot Johannes Golla (four). And always Häfner.
At 32, the Melsunger is the second-oldest player in the German squad and drew his sometimes shaky colleagues along with his experience. Häfner kept tearing holes and digging his way through, but could rarely be stopped by the Belarusians. 25:21, now things were going well for the German team.
During the time-out, Gislason warned that the tempo should be kept up so that the game could finally be snatched away from the tired-looking Belarusians. And the opponents couldn’t come closer than two goals. A clearer success would have been possible if right winger Kastening and middle man Weber hadn’t freely awarded their counterattacks. So the prospects before the second group game on Sunday (6 p.m., ARD) against Austria are suddenly quite good: Two points have been scored, now it’s against the supposedly weakest opponent in the group – and there is still some potential for improvement in the team.
By the way, everything is fine with goalkeeper Wolff, said Gislason, despite the demotion at the beginning of the game. No, Wolff is not angry. “Andi had known for weeks that he would not start,” revealed the national coach. And he laughed.