By Sascha Staat
Well – I may have used this headline before, but I cannot recall when? Yet, it wouldn’t surprise me, especially in connection with the German national handball team. A World championship on home soil is on the horizon for coach Christian Prokop and his men – one year after a disastrous ninth-place finish at the EHF Euro 2018, just ahead of Belarus and Macedonia. It wasn’t enough back then and a similar result at World Cup’19 – in all likelihood – will cost Prokop’s job. Still, that was then and this is now.
Yesterday, Germany’s head coach announced the final roster including 16 players, removing right-wing Tobias Reichmann, the top goal scorer for Team Germany at the 2016 EHF Euro, and Tim Suton, a young back-court player, from the list, for now. Cutting Reichmann comes as a surprise, but you may argue that newcomer Franz Semper can fill in for Patrick Groetzki, in case he’s struggling.
Now, that all is set and ready to go what does this team have to offer? Is it good enough to win it all or are too many of the key elements missing? At this point, there is no straightforward answer to these questions. The loss of Julius Kühn, who suffered a season-ending knee-injury in late October, will be hard if not impossible to overcome. His firepower has kept opponents on their toes, while creating space for Germany’s world-class, line player trio, consisting of Hendrik Pekeler, Patrick Wiencek and Jannik Kohlbacher.
As Kühn is not available who else will step up and fill his role? Prokop included 20-year old Sebastian Heymann on the 28-men roster, but left out Christian Dissinger, a player similar to Kühn. Instead, he made Fabian Böhm his first choice, claiming that the veteran will be his man for the left-back position. You don’t know Fabian Böhm? Well, he is playing for TSV Hannover-Burgdorf, a club that currently sits in 14th place in the Bundesliga where he is averaging 3.6 goals per game.
To some this statistic may sound decent, but usually he is playing 60 minutes and after averaging 4.6 goals per match, his numbers have dropped to 2.3 in his last seven games.
Prokop also decided to call back Martin Strobel, who had retired from the national team after the 2016 Olympics and currently plays in Germany’s 2nd Division. Strobel is a real team player and much appreciated character. But, he is not known as a shooter never mind a scorer – in his last five games before the winter break he averaged one (!) goal per game.
Succeeding in games during critical situations a team needs so-called “easy” goals. But, how many of those goals can Germany score if Böhm and Strobel are two of the three players in the backcourt? I am not convinced – at least not yet.
What other assets are there, that will make the difference; things that will work in their favor to even beat the best-of-the-best on a very good day? The goalkeeping duo including Andreas Wolff and Silvio Heinevetter certainly will be a key factor and hard to match if they catch fire.
Germany’s defense formation is yet another reason why Gensheimer & Co. will go far. Anchored by Lemke, Pekeler and Wiencek, the lineup in front of Wolff and Heinevetter is just terrific.
On the other end of the court, Fabian Wiede and Steffen Weinhold represent top-class on right-back, although Wiede is expected to function as playmaker at least some of the time.
The wing players are considered among the best in the world, but captain, Uwe Gensheimer, needs to show that he can deliver on the biggest of all stages, something he does in the Champions League on a regular basis.
To sum it up and borrowing a term from poker – Prokop will be “All In” no matter what and certainly after selecting Böhm and Strobel. It’s a bold move but I remain a skeptic how it will play out until proven otherwise.
Sports history has too many stories and anecdotes that have proven the pundits wrong so many times. For now, it’s “All In”.