EThere was a lot of talk about the young German handball team, which was supposed to meet at this European Championship in Hungary and Slovakia in order to be prepared for the big challenges of the coming years. But first of all the old hands worked out the convincing 33:29 (17:18) against Belarus on Friday evening.
The often scolded Melsunger Kai Häfner and Julius Kühn gave the national team the desired start to this continental ball throwing fair – thanks to the 14 goals together, the players of the German Handball Association (DHB) collected their first points in the Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava.
Häfner, 32, needed ten attempts for his eight goals, six of Kühn’s (28) eight shots went into the goal. This impressive result and more aggressive marking in the second half laid the foundation for a victory that leaves the Germans looking forward to the games against Austria on Sunday and Poland on Tuesday. “I really liked what happened in attack,” praised DHB sports director Axel Kromer.
He didn’t forget to point out that the German defense had to “work really hard for 60 minutes” against circle player Artsem Karalek. The new captain Johannes Golla and Patrick Wiencek did that after a hesitant 30 minutes and were better coordinated. And when Häfner, Kühn and the strong left winger Marcel Schiller (eight hits) proved their accuracy, the team ran in favor of the Germans at the latest from Schiller’s 25:21 in the 41st minute.
The first appearance at a major tournament – always a matter of nerves. After the test match victories over France and Switzerland, there was little sense of self-confidence at first. Belarus pulled away to 7:2 (11th minute) and benefited from the Champions League experience of their first seven. A 5-0 run paved the way for the DHB team to at least have a balanced first half.
Gislason trusted goalkeeper Till Klimpke, Christoph Steinert, Sebastian Heymann and Schiller in the starting seven – four European Championship debutants. It only became more stable with Kühn and Andreas Wolff in goal. Gislason said, “It was the experienced who turned things around.”
The Icelander explained that he had known “for a long time” that Wolff would not start and referred to Klimpke’s training performance. Belarus would start well – the national coach had demonstrated that to the team in the analysis. Director Philipp Weber, who became more confident as the game progressed, said: “They always play a strong first half and then ease up. We didn’t get access at first, but stayed calm.”
Finally, the Germans took a deep breath in the interview zone. “That was a typical first tournament game,” said Wiencek, “we didn’t really know where we were. We turned the game well and are happy about the first success.” Before the DHB entourage traveled the few hundred meters to the team hotel by bus, Gislason warned of the next opponent: “Austria has improved enormously and we have except two points didn’t win much.”