By Kevin Domas
The winners of the previous two international competitions are approaching the unknown, as both countries face similar problems, while heavily relying on young players as old generations slowly retire. Spain are assured of remaining “Kings of Europe” until next year, while France might lose their crown in three weeks time.
“We’re not title holders of anything. A lot of things have changed since 2017, especially since the retirement of Daniel Narcisse and Thierry Omeyer from the national team,” warns French head coach, Didier Dinart. With Nikola Karabatic sidelined due to injury, France will look towards their youngsters to get the job done. Of the 17 players who flew to Berlin to play the opening game against Brazil, eight of them are 27 years-old or less.
As we talk about lack of experience, at the same time,we need to speak about talent. Dika Mem, Ludovic Fabregas, Melvyn Richardson and Nédim Rémili all have assumed major roles in their respective clubs – Paris, Barcelona, Montpellier, you name it.
“This could be their time to shine. They used to surprise at previous tournaments, but now other nations know who they are and what they are up to. If they can deliver the goods, given new circumstances it would just confirm how good they really are,” says former HSV Hamburg and French international, Bertrand Gille.
Some of those young players have performed under pressure already. For instance, Romain Lagarde left a massive impression at the EHF Euro 2018 in Croatia, when he scored four goals in the semi-final against Spain. Today, on the left-back position, he could become a decisive factor for France.
For Spain, the problem is quite similar, except the situation has been created deliberately and wasn’t driven by retirements from the national team. Coach, Jordi Ribera took some tough decisions ahead of the 2019 World championship, especially on the wing positions. The two Nantes players – David Balaguer and Valero Rivera – were left home, while Aleix Gomez and Anger Fernandez Perez, will enter the court for the first time in an international competition.
Could the absence of these consistent scorers cause harm to Spain’s ambitions? Jordi Ribera will stick to his decision, no matter what.
“Our team is a good mix between older and some young players. Even the young ones have gained experience as they play in some of the best clubs in Europe.”
But it’s not only on the wings where Ribera has been making adjustments. He also introduced Daniel Dujshebaev to the team. The younger brother of Alex was enlisted for the EHF Euro, in Croatia, and even joined the squad in the last moments before their first European title became reality. And, when you look at the likes of Alex, Aitor Arino, Ferran Sole and even the goalkeeping duo including Corrales and Perez de Vargas, you must conclude that Spain is slowly but surely getting younger.
Still, it should not serve as an excuse as they compete in one of the toughest of groups at Handball ’19, as Macedonia, Iceland and Croatia are all eying a main round spot, and all of them have the potential to beat the reigning European champion.
For France and Spain, the time for change is now, at Handball ’19. It’s a risky but necessary move, but it certainly is the right decision. Considering the abundance of talent, the two handball powerhouses may just get way with it and win a medal?