By Sascha Staat
“I’m very proud of my team – we all should be very proud.”
These were the words of Christian Prokop, head coach of the German national handball team after Tuesday’s draw against France. Although, it could easily feel like a loss considering the co-hosts squandered another lead, late in the game, it really feels more like a win. Especially, when comparing this match to the draw against Russia just 24 hours earlier.
When you go all in, you either win- or lose big. It’s rare that you end up with a draw, just like the German team did.
Although, you can argue that Prokop’s men are still “all in”, they probably would prefer calling it “game on”. At the moment, the team’s state of mind is difficult to describe. Two consecutive draws may lead to the conclusion that the spirit may not be the best, but thanks to Brazil the mood has changed for the better, especially when compared to one day earlier.
One result changed everything. Well, one result can still change everything, but after the game against Russia, Germany was looking to take only one point to the main round, in Cologne. But, now that number (in all likelihood) will be three, in addition to a huge goal differential.
Why? Because Brazil was kind enough to beat Russia, just a day after the Germany’s tie with the former handball superpower. Back then, heads were hanging low, but 24-hours later it’s a different world.
From a German point of view it’s a shame they couldn’t hang on to beat arch rival France. But the attitude, the overall performance, the pose of every single player, lead us to believe that reaching the semi-final is a realistic objective.
The atmosphere in the arenas is yet another factor. What about the coach – he used to be a big question mark. But, Christian Prokop has learned from his mistakes. These days, he is much more relaxed compared to one year ago at the EHF EURO, in Croatia. You can see it, you can feel it.
Today, he trusts his players more than he used to. He is calm and it’s no issue at all that Finn Lemke is warming the bench most of the time, as Hendrik Pekeler and Patrick Wiencek form the best central defense duo there is. Yes – it’s debatable, but I don’t see who is playing better than them. They are the main reason why nobody will enjoy playing Germany. No matter if it’s Spain or Croatia, Iceland or Macedonia. All of them will find it tough to create scoring opportunities.
On the front end of the court, Martin Strobel, is leading the pack and he is doing a decent job. Lacking the ability to score was often used as an argument against him, rightfully so, but in the game against France he put on a clinic. He scored on all four of his attempted shots and hardly made any mistakes.
Fabian Wiede finally showed his talent as well. After a dismal record against Korea (0/1), Brazil (2/3) and Russia (0/0) converting 67 percent of his shots is a very good statistic.
So, why is unbeaten Germany “losing” games in the end? Because of bad luck? In both cases (Russia and France) it was bad decision making, to be honest. Understandably, the players want to focus on the positive aspects of the last match.
“This game will give us a lot of confidence for the rest of the tournament,” said Paul Drux right after the battle against France. He’s right. And, he knows that home court advantage really means even more, now that Germany will be heading to Cologne, for the main round.
Will it be enough to go all the way? Probably not. Will it be enough to make it to Hamburg? For some reason you get the feeling it may work out. Every single player will leave his heart on the court, the atmosphere in the arena will be electrifying and the hype has yet to kick in with over 12 million people watching the drama unfold on television.
It’s almost time to put the cards on the table.