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Handball EM: Team Germany, lost in the Corona chaos

Dhe threatening scenario of bringing an oversized team to the start at the European Championships was described a little jokingly by Alfred Gislason during the main round of the continental title fights. “I hope,” said the national coach, “that we don’t have to leave here with a 50-man squad.”

In the end there weren’t 50 German players, but after the virus broke out in the “Corona Hell” of Bratislava, 28 handball players actually romped around in the team quarters. 17 had traveled to the start, eleven were subsequently nominated. The first of them went home on Sunday before the defeat against Sweden (21:25), the chance of being played again in this damned tournament was almost zero for most of them after surviving the infection.

The sporting value of this European Championship for Germany should be in a similar area. If, after the second game, the test results from the laboratory are far more important than the game results on the field, something has gone fundamentally wrong.

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And it fits the picture that the German Handball Federation (DHB) also had to report two more players as positive cases on Monday morning: Simon Ernst and Patrick Wiencek accumulated the number of players infected during the title fights to 15, plus two supervisors and Co Coach Erik Wudtke. An absurd event, which for the national team has degenerated into a mere performance of duty even before the last main round game against Russia on Tuesday (6 p.m., ZDF and WELT live ticker).

Mannheim, Germany January 07, 2022: DHB men test match, EHF EM 2022, Germany vs. Switzerland Coach Alfred Gislason (Germany)

Third tournament under bad conditions: national coach Alfred Gislason

Those: picture alliance / Marco Wolf

The entire German entourage would probably have left the team accommodation “Lindner Hotel Gallery Central” in Bratislava in the middle of last week if the European Handball Federation (EHF) had not openly threatened severe sanctions. “According to our legal system, leaving the tournament would have meant a ban for the nation, i.e. no participation in a World Cup qualification and difficult circumstances with regard to the EM 2024,” said EHF General Secretary Martin Hausleitner on Friday about the previously debated withdrawal of the Germans. “There would also have been economic consequences, which we would also have been obliged to claim.”

“A borderline experience”

From that day at the latest, the motto for the players and the national coach was clear: Close your eyes and go through with it. Nobody wanted to say it openly, after all, the DHB is the organizer of the EM 2024 and can hardly afford legal disputes with the continental association. Neither financially nor for image reasons.

Axel Kromer made it clear on Monday how much the corona chaos at the European Championships had gotten on the nerves of the protagonists since arriving on January 12th. “Of course, this is a borderline experience for all of us, also individually. Nobody has ever experienced things like that,” said the sports director of the DHB.

It is still unclear how the virus got into the team and then raged like this. No other nation is as badly affected as Germany. They are sure that the players or supervisors were lax, but it wasn’t the fault. “The hygiene measures are very high, there is always a risk of infection,” explained right winger Lukas Zerbe on the overarching problem. “But you try to hide that,” said the nephew of Volker Zerbe, who won Germany’s first European Championship title in 2004 as a half-right and defense chief.

Bratislava, January 23, 2022: Handball EHF EM, main round, group 2, Germany vs. Sweden Lukas Zerbe (Germany / TBV Lemgo)

Lukas Zerbe (centre) in the game against Sweden

Those: picture alliance / Marco Wolf

Hendrik Wagner experienced the capers that the tournament can sometimes throw up. The backcourt player was the first professional to be nominated after Julius Kühn’s absence, but then had to pass after his arrival in the Slovakian capital: the PCR test was positive. After a week of isolation, he was allowed to play again in the bankruptcy against Sweden – with which Germany also gambled away the last theoretical chance of participating in the European Championship semi-finals. But it was a short debut.

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“He comes in and says after three attacks that he can’t breathe anymore,” said national coach Gislason after the game: “Of course I can’t get him anymore. Due to the experience with Hendrik, there is no point in using the people who were locked in their room for a week.” He asked Wagner several times during the warm-up whether he felt fit, the professional always said yes. “The game is then something else, after three or four minutes he noticed the virus,” said Gislason.

“All values ​​were great”

After all, the player from the second division club Eulen Ludwigshafen was able to give the all-clear the morning after. The brief deployment apparently had no further negative consequences. “Of course I had air problems. But that’s probably normal when you’ve been in your room for seven days,” said Wagner: “But I’m not worried because a doctor checked me out here, all the values ​​were great.”

Antics of a tournament: Hendrik Wagner (left) greets his teammates before the game against Sweden, but then quickly runs out of breath in the game

Antics of a tournament: Hendrik Wagner (left) greets his teammates before the game against Sweden, but then quickly runs out of breath in the game

Source: dpa

At least the medical ones, but not the sporting ones, one would like to add. It is still unclear whether Wagner can take part in the final game against Russia on Tuesday. The fact is, however, that a better B team will appear again. “I’m sorry for everyone that things didn’t go the way we all planned,” said sporting director Kromer.

Above all, the coach is not to be envied: “For Alfred, it’s crazy that he’s playing his third tournament and none of it under normal circumstances. He was never allowed to experience euphoria.”

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