Handball European Championship: German handball players only have finals

EM threatens to end
From now on only finals: After the defeat against France, the German handball players are under pressure

National coach Alfred Gislason is struggling in the game against France – and now has to pull it out against his home country Iceland

© Andreas Gora / DPA

They wanted to write a winter fairy tale and win the European Championship. But in order to maintain their chances of progressing, the German handball players have to beat Iceland on Thursday – the home country of national coach Alfred Gislason.

Alfred Gislason is Icelandic and he is the coach of the German national handball team. This hasn’t been a problem for Gislason over the past four years; he simply switched between worlds. He spent the summer at home when handball was off. And at the start of the season in the fall, he always moved back to his house in Jerichower Land near Magdeburg in order to travel to Bundesliga games from there.

But now the worlds that Gislason had previously separated so strictly are colliding. On Thursday (8:30 p.m.) the German national team will face Iceland in Cologne. It is the first main round game of the European Championship – and a final for Gislason’s team. If she loses it, the tournament would most likely be over for her.

The reason for this is the Germans’ 30:33 defeat against France in Berlin on Tuesday evening. While the French move into the main round with two plus points, Gislason’s selection has an empty account. In addition to Iceland, opponents in the group will also be Austria, Hungary and Croatia. “They’re all top teams,” said Gislason, “but they’re also beatable when we put in our best performance.”

Gislason, the 190-time Icelandic international, doesn’t want to take his friends from home into account. “It’s clear to me which side I’m on,” he said, “I love this team,” and he meant the German team. Nevertheless, Gislason announced that he would sing both national anthems before kick-off. That’s how diplomatic he is, even before his most important game as Germany’s national team coach.

There’s a lot at stake on Thursday in Cologne’s Lanxess Arena. The German handball players want to write a so-called winter fairy tale. The European Championship in our own country is intended to promote the sport and take it to a new level, just behind football, the Germans’ favorite sport. Springer’s tabloids are drumming up a strong drumbeat. Before the France game, Bild wrote that the handball players triggered “collective feelings of happiness” in the country, which made the frustration with the traffic light government forgotten and became “temporarily the glue of society.”

Handball European Championship: Germany only has a small consolation

More exaggeration, more pathos is hardly possible. Apart from the fact that Springer has its own motives, namely to attract subscribers to the in-house sports channel Dyn: This is all too big for the German handball players. Saving the Republic anyway, but also in terms of sport, they have known since Tuesday that a world-class team like France is way ahead of them. The euphoria after the European Championship opening victories against Switzerland and North Macedonia has now given way to disillusionment. The only consolation that remains is the knowledge that “we were close to France, that we could have beaten them if two or three situations had gone differently,” as playmaker Juri Knorr summed up.

Knorr was once again the best German field player, and goalkeeper Andreas Wolff also excelled, as before against Switzerland. Knorr and Wolff, that is the German axis. Every handball coach at the European Championships knows this, and whoever manages to break this axis wins the game.

The French despaired of Wolff in the first half, and after just 20 minutes the statistics showed eight saves for him. The fast Knorr was also difficult to stop, but in the second half France coach Guillaume Gille, who once played for HSV Hamburg for ten years, put the defensive giant Dika Mem against Knorr. And it tormented the German playmaker, as could be seen in Knorr’s battered jersey. Each attack cost Knorr a lot of strength; It was only with great difficulty to escape the freestyle wrestler Mem’s clutches.

Alfred Gislason lacks such role players who can be quickly substituted for special tasks. The German rotation is small: In addition to Wolff and Knorr, Gislason considers the pivot Jannik Kohlbacher and the backcourt player Julian Köster to be indispensable. He almost let them play through the second half against France, even though they were gasping for breath. Gislason is merciless.

The Germans now have little time to recover from the wrestling matches. This Wednesday they move to Cologne, they train briefly on Thursday afternoon, and then the final against Iceland takes place in the evening. Alfred Gislason would certainly be very happy if his Germans didn’t fix society, but rather their own game.

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