WITHTogether with a Danish sponsor who sells pumps and is committed to treating drinking water in Malawi, the European Handball Federation presents the “Player of the Match” after each game of the continental title fights. With great regularity, the best professionals line up next to a small trophy and an oversized poster. A nice ritual, nothing more.
After the victory of the German selection over Austria, however, there was some resentment about the election – in their own ranks. Timo Kastening was allowed to pick up the award, which was quite understandable: the right winger had accommodated nine of ten shot attempts in the goal and showed a strong performance for 60 minutes.
According to some teammates, however, he was clearly surpassed by goalkeeper Till Klimpke. “Till drove it crazy. And to be honest, I don’t know who decides that, but he should have picked up this poster and the trophy today,” said teammate Christoph Steinert about the association’s vote.
The episode, which took place on Sunday evening in front of 1485 spectators in Bratislava’s Ondreja Nepulo Arena, fits in well with the quite changeable performances of the newly formed national team at the European Championship. The game against Austria suddenly had two match winners ready who had previously had a very unlucky start to the tournament.
Kastening, after all, Germany’s handball player of the year 2020, was only allowed to intervene in the second half during the opening match against Belarus on Friday for tactical reasons and only scored one goal. The same game went completely past Klimpke, he was substituted in the eleventh minute when the score was 2:7, until then the keeper hadn’t saved a ball. Within 48 hours, the two handball players went from being pitiful bench pressers to celebrated heroes.
It is possible that this unpredictability in the ranks of the best German ball throwers will give rise to a great strength during this European Championship, but sometimes even the boss despairs of the unsteady appearance of his men. “Of course we’re really annoyed that we’ve always started badly lately, and we’re puzzled about the reasons,” said national coach Alfred Gislason after the 34:29 (15:16) against Austria.
“I found our defense extremely weak in the first half. Things were going reasonably well in front, not particularly well. We’re still a bit concerned that we’re never really there from the start. It has to get better,” said the Icelander. “Of course it’s also a great quality to make it in all the games after all. But it would be nice if things changed and we got on really well against Poland.”
The duel on Tuesday (6 p.m., ZDF and WELT live ticker) is now about victory in preliminary round group D. Both nations have already secured progress with four points, but the game is of immense importance: the counters from this game will be taken into the main round, which starts on Thursday.
The anticipation is great
One of the exciting questions during the game will be whether the Germans will come along like a little piñata again. For the time being, they can claim that thanks to a significant increase in performance after the break in both group matches, they still got the bow in time.
“We clinched two emotional victories, as an interim conclusion we are satisfied,” said sporting director Axel Kromer on Monday about reaching the main round – the previously formulated minimum goal for this European Championship. “But that’s not going to make us sit back. I saw the anticipation and motivation for the game against Poland in the players’ eyes this morning at breakfast.”
The emotional state observed by the official may also have applied to goalkeeper Klimpke. The 23-year-old keeper of HSG Wetzlar is one of eight tournament debutants in the national team squad and apparently has the gift of not thinking too much after a damned performance like the one against Belarus.
His 14 saves in a duel with Austria meant a rate of 38 percent saved balls. “That’s world class,” stated Gislason. “I’m really happy for the boy. He held up very well.” And the acclaimed keeper was later happy to have arrived in the tournament. “It was awesome that I was able to play through 60 minutes and we rocked it like that,” said Klimpke. “We have to look ahead now, in a tournament like this you can’t talk about a game for so long, you have to look straight to the next one. And of course we want to be group winners. Overall we played a good game. There is still potential for improvement, we want to work on that now.”
Achieving stability throughout the game will be a prerequisite for success on Tuesday. This also applies to right winger Kastening. “In the first game I didn’t have much playing time. Of course you’re not the happiest person in the world,” said the MT Melsungen professional. “That’s why it’s all the nicer when you can play through 60 minutes as a winger, get into the rhythm and gain self-confidence.”
Second corona case
In the end, that was far more important to him than the choice after the game, which he rates in the same way as team-mate Steinert anyway: he too had expected keeper Klimpke to be at the top. “The goalkeeper saved the game for us. It is not a matter of course to keep so many free balls. So the real player in the game is Till Klimke.”
In addition to the imponderables in the election, the protagonists also have to deal with corona cases in their own team again and again. After Julius Kühn, who tested positive on Saturday, the Germans were hit by Hendrik Wagner, who had just been nominated.
“I don’t understand the world anymore,” said the backcourt player, who only arrived in Slovakia on Sunday. “I’m physically fine at the moment, but the last few hours have been an emotional rollercoaster ride.”