Pytlick Seems To Feel Sure About His Girls
October 29, 2014
By Peter Bruun
The fact that Denmark´s national coach nominates his squad for the upcoming European Championship six weeks before the tournament shows huge confidence in his players.
Jan Pytlick has secured Denmark at least one “first place” at the EHF EURO 2014 a long time before the first ball will be thrown in the arenas of Hungary and Croatia.
By nominating 15 of the possible 16 players of his squad he is by far the quickest among the 16 national coaches when it comes to deciding on which players are going to represent their country at the 11th European championship of women’s handball. “I think we have a very good picture of the squad after the Golden League on home ground at the beginning of this month and therefore we have decided to nominate the team now”, was Jan Pytlick´s official explanation of the extremely early announcement. He may be right, of course. But might that picture not have become even clearer if he would have waited another couple of weeks? Probably – yet there may be other reasons that support this remarkably early nomination of the entire squad apart from one slot that still remains open. One possible explanation could be the simple fact that Jan Pytlick realized that he did not have all that many options and that he would gain more by making the players feel safe and secure and relieve them from the pressures of not knowing their destiny. In any event, he has placed a great deal of confidence in these 15 players by letting them know at this early point, that he believes in them for the championship in December.
Three candidates for the remaining position
Why did Jan Pytlick not announce all 16 names at the same time but left one spot open?
One reason might be that he wanted to know how serious goalkeeper Sandra Toft’s condition was after her sudden indisposition on the flight back from Larvik’s Champions League match with MKS Selgros Lublin last weekend. However, everything indicates that the 24-year-old Larvik keeper is fit and well again. So the more likely thought is that the last nomination is the only one Pytlick is really in doubt of while the rest of the positions were more or less self-evident. The last open slot is – beyond any doubt – a position in the back-court and an opening that will be filled with a right handed player. Three candidates seem to be the obvious choice for that position – Anne Mette Hansen from København Håndbold, Anne Sofie Hjort from Team Tvis Holstebro and Jane Schumacher from Randers HK. Of the three, Schumacher is the most versatile player as she can play center-back as well. This may well be part of Jan Pytlick´s consideration in case he wants the option of having a different kind of playmaker available other than Kristina Kristiansen or Lotte Grigel. However, having nominated two regular playmakers it is unlikely that he wants a third option for that position and is probably looking more for a real back-up of Stine Jørgensen as left-back. Furthermore, Pytlick has said repeatedly that his team is going to peak at the World championship on home ground in 2015 and at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Although it is more than acceptable to win medals in the meantime it would be logical to nominate one of the two young left backs, especially as it would not mean any weakening of the team. It is hard to predict who of the two Pytlick will chose but let us make an educated guess and assume Anne Mette Hansen will be the best supplement to Stine Jørgensen.
A lot of potential but warning signals too
So what can this team really achieve in Hungary, where they are going to play all of their matches at EURO 2014?
Judging by the result of the World championship in December of last year when the Danes took third place, there is every reason to have certain expectations. Not the least because 13 of the current players were also part of the bronze medal winning team in Serbia. The Danish performance at the Golden League tournament at the beginning of October at home also gave reason for optimism – at least based on the performance of the last two matches against Brazil and Norway. Of course, predictions are difficult to make as long as the opponents lineups are not known. Fact is that Denmark has ended up not only in a tough Group B with Norway, Romania and Ukraine as opponents but also in a challenging bracket when looking ahead to the main round. At this stage possible adversaries will be the best three teams from Group A, including Hungary, Russia Poland and Spain. Odds have obviously changed because of Heidi Løke´s comeback for Norway but Jan Pytlick may not be entirely wrong in his assessment that up to 11 out of the 16 participating countries in Hungary and Croatia can take a medal. Denmark will definitely be among these nations and certainly will not have to fear any of the competitors.
The goalkeeper position seems to be in good hands with the nomination of Sandra Toft and Rikke Poulsen. Toft spent Tuesday’s match against Skrim Kongsberg in the Norwegian league on the bench following her indisposition over the weekend. Meanwhile she has reported to be completely fit and well again; so there is no doubt that she will be ready in December. The wing positions are in as good hands as goalkeeping – with Trine Østergaard and Maibritt Kviesgaard on the right- and Ann Grete Nørgaard and Maria Fisker on the left side. As right-back, Louise Burgaard has shown top form and great confidence lately, not only for Viborg but for her country as well, and her colleague on this position, Line Jørgensen, seems to be fit and well again after her knee injury. The playmaker duo, consisting of Kristina Kristiansen and Lotte Grigel is the same as the one that was a success at the European championship 2012 and there is no reason why they should not be flourishing again. The same rationale applies to the position of left-back with Stine Jørgensen and – probably – Anne Mette Hansen. And Denmark could not be better represented with Susan Thorsgaard and Mette Gravholt as line players. Last but not least with experienced defenders such as Pernille Holmsgaard and Marianne Bonde – who can both take turns in the attack as well – Team Denmark seems to be strong as well as versatile.
However, there still are some alarm signals and those originate from the very first match at the recent Golden League competition in Denmark. The last ten minutes of the match against France when Denmark turned a 19:17 lead into a 22:19 defeat were a bit alarming. But those “minutes” of almost total collapse will hopefully remain an non-recurring episode when the European championship starts.
The one part of the Danish game that gave reason for worries during the qualification matches for EURO 2014 was the defense play. By now we can conclude with certainty it looks much more solid, based on the experience at the aforementioned Golden League tournament. At least when defending in the traditional 6:0 formation which the players are most familiar with and probably also feel most confident about. Still Jan Pytlick has stated that he also wants to work with more aggressive defense formations. With only one training camp remaining and three test matches – at the Golden League competition in Norway at the end of November – it is questionable if there will be sufficient rehearsal time left. He may have to stick to the well-known tools once again. Despite some minor warning signals there is every reason to be hopeful about Denmark’s possibilities at the upcoming European championship. Yet another reason for optimism is the fact that there appears to be harmony in the squad and between the team and Jan Pytlick.
After the best Danish result in nine years – the bronze medal at the World championship in Serbia last December – such harmony had disappeared. All of a sudden, some players uttered their discontent with coach Pytlick´s tactics and his way of playing the game. Fortunately, the dispute seems to be long over and dealt with. All in all Denmark can really look forward to the championship with confidence. This does not necessarily mean that we must expect Line Jorgensen & Co. to take another medal – there are many qualified teams around – but Denmark should definitely be among the contenders.