The German national handball team had taken a “short break” from international tournaments, starting with the 2012 London Olympics, then missing out on EURO 2014 two years later in Denmark and they did not even qualify for the World championship in Qatar either. A young team full of inexperienced players with a new coach, Dagur Sigurdsson, received a wild card and finished in 7th place. The result was viewed as a respectable start to a new era. What followed in 2016 was unexpected and could not be foreseen.
After winning the EURO 2016 in Poland and a Bronze medal at the Olympic games in Rio, there are no more holidays scheduled for the German team in January in the next few years. Even though the man who led the national squad out of misery – Dagur Sigurdsson – will depart to Japan once the tournament in France is history. But no matter who the coach will be, the team is set to be a force for years to come. The recipe for the comeback to success is – plain and simple – self-confidence.
It’s rather interesting to hear what people from other countries say when you talk to them about the German squad of two or three years ago. Everyone feared the quality of the players that they weren’t able to show on the court. Sigurdsson gave the youngsters a chance and he had a plan. Now, they trust him and they believe in themselves again. After a tough loss in the Rio semi-final against France, the goal is set – finishing on top at the World Cup in France.
There’s no doubt that Denmark and Germany are the two biggest hurdles for France to overcome if the hosts want to win on home soil. The European champion offers great players on almost every position. Andreas Wolff is the new superstar goalkeeper of handball, a funny guy to most people. But no matter how crazy he can be off the court, he’s always performing on the pitch.
The wingers are world-class as well. Uwe Gensheimer, who’s father died unexpectedly last week and who will miss parts of the group stage because of the funeral, and Tobias Reichmann, formed the best wing combination in handball over the last year. They are backed-up by Rune Dahmke (THW Kiel), and Patrick Groetzki (Rhein-Necker Löwen). No questions left.
The back-court offers various high-level players as well, like Steffen Fäth and Paul Drux from Füchse Berlin, or up-and-coming Simon Ernst. He might turn out to be the big surprise of the competition from a German point of view. Then there’s Ernst’s club colleague from Gummersbach, Julius Kühn, who’s absolutely fearless. Again, double trouble on every position for every German opponent. A rule, that doesn’t apply for the right-back position.
That’s because both – Berlin’s Fabian Wiede and Kiel’s Steffen Weinhold – are still recovering from injuries. Weinhold is a tough loss, but the loss of Wiede is even more difficult to absorb. Although younger than Weinhold and far less experienced, he is the second coming of former Icelandic superstar, Olafur Stefansson. He can change his mind on the fly, often causing major headaches for opposing defense systems.
That’s why, apart from Kai Häfner, who’s a streak shooter in the true sense, there’s no other right-back on the roster when Germany faces Hungary in Rouen later tonight. Holger Glandorf returned from retirement for international duties on Monday in a friendly match against Austria and would help out in case of an emergency. For now, it’s an open secret that he will join the team later on. He’s a smart player and represents world-class in offense and defense. Should he find his rhythm right away, he will turn into a big asset.
Patrick Wiencek, another real force, and Jannik Kohlbacher, a small but very powerful player are the duo on the line. Erik Schmidt was sent back home and coach Sigurdsson has to do without Hendrik Pekeler, which leaves him with monster blocker, Finn Lemke, in defense. There are some minor flaws on the German roster, but it’s hard to find any real weakness. Without sounding arrogant, the players have set a clear objective – returning home as the next world champion.
Is it possible? Absolutely. Is it likely? Why not – yes. But it’s anything but certain, because Germany has some questions marks left, with regards to the state of mind of Gensheimer, sadly enough, and the psychological impact of coach Sigurdsson leaving soon. Croatia might win the group, but if Germany finishes first, then France should wait in the semi-final, in Paris on January 27th. Mark this date in your calendar, as it could be a match for the ages.