The national handball team missed the semifinals. This is the sober summary of the EM from a German point of view. After the last game against Russia on Tuesday, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in seventh or twelfth place in the final standings. Only the last impression is important, reminds Paul Drux, one of the remaining experienced players in the squad. Drux knows how a bust can linger on the final show.
But this danger hardly exists, because despite the three main round defeats against Spain, Norway and Sweden, the commitment, fighting spirit and passion of this team were impeccable. If one can speak of “this team” at all. After all, coach Alfred Gislason had to constantly rebuild his selection. One key player after another became infected, before the last preliminary round match against the highly rated Poles, the top six were almost completely in quarantine.
From then on, team meetings were held virtually, training was no longer at all, then voluntarily, the players met shortly before leaving for the hall, boarded the bus back to the hotel without a shower and immediately went back to the single rooms in isolation.
The fact that debutants like Daniel Rebmann or Lukas Zerbe say they haven’t met a few of their isolated teammates at all is the point of a European Handball Championship that nobody can take seriously anymore. One has to ask oneself whether the German team is more to be regretted than the later European champions given their bad luck with 15 infected players. Such a questionable title has never been awarded before.
Gislason also has to find a way to deal with the unvaccinated Juri Knorr
The fact that neither players nor coaches used the devastating circumstances as an excuse speaks for the squad. It was almost touching how the debutants Julian Köster or Hendrik Wagner, who earn their money with second division clubs, looked for their own mistakes instead of citing the lack of agreements and automatisms due to a lack of training. The results were unsatisfactory, but there was also a positive impression that a group of young, talented professionals had come together who wanted more – and did.
Therein lies the great hope and the great task for the coach. From now on, Gislason has to make sure that the many talents and debutants such as Köster, Steinert, Wagner, Stutzke, Zerbe, Witzke, Mertens and whatever they are called do not have to give way to the old warhorses again, should they feel like joining the national team again. Before the tournament, the Icelander indicated that he would think very carefully about whether he could easily reintegrate the unvaccinated Juri Knorr, one of the greatest talents in German handball, into the team if others played in the foreground at the European Championship.
Now, with a view to the home tournaments in 2024 (EM) and 2027 (WM), Gislason must follow through with action, consistently continue the upheaval that was born out of necessity and find the right selection from pushing forward talents and established forces. Going back to old patterns and a collection of overused Bundesliga warhorses would be the wrong approach. And a fatal signal.