Dhe praise came from qualified sources. After all, Nikola Karabatic has won everything there is to win in world handball and has dominated the industry with France’s selection for years. At the advanced age of 38 as an athlete, he now wants to win his fifth world championship title. And so he was correspondingly glad that the venture hadn’t already been ruined by a strong opponent in the quarter-finals.
“It was a tough fight and the result at the end doesn’t show how good and dangerous Germany was,” he said late Wednesday evening in the Gdansk Arena. “We know that the team has many talents and can play handball well and aggressively.” That’s why his team had to improve after a difficult first half in order to make the game successful. And what does Germany have to do differently to be the winner again in a duel with France? “I don’t know,” said Karabatic: “And if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.” Then he laughed and disappeared towards the dressing room.
While Karabatic and his team moved on to Stockholm on Thursday to play co-hosts Sweden in the semi-finals, the German handball players are only allowed to play for places five to eight there. The first opponent is Egypt on Friday (3.30 p.m.).
A rather thankless task – especially after an exhausting tournament, which despite the 28:35 (16:16) defeat against the Olympic champion could be seen as an important stage on the way to a better future. Germany used the World Cup in Poland and Sweden to move up to the top of the world again after twelfth place in the previous global showdown in 2021 and to polish its image with some spectacular victories during the preliminary and main rounds.
Gislason criticizes the World Cup schedule
National coach Alfred Gislason sat on the podium in the press conference room for a while after the painful defeat and studied the game statistics extensively. He had enough time for this because his colleague Guillaume Gille was late. “We made more and more mistakes in attack. We missed four shots in the first half and 14 in the second,” he said shortly afterwards. “We’re going to cause ourselves improbable problems. It’s annoying that we don’t finish this better. Just like the Norway game, where we actually very clearly throw the game away. I can only see that as a question of strength for some.”
In fact, the drop in performance in the German team after the break against France and before that against Norway at the end of the main round (26:28) was the clearly visible result of the overload from games played every two days. Gislason took the fact that Norway had lost their quarter-finals against Spain 34:35 immediately before the German game in extra time as an opportunity to talk about the somewhat unfair format and two organizers of the World Cup. Because Spain and France had two rest days before their knockout duels. “I have to say that the two teams that only had a day’s rest lost both today: the Norwegians and us. This is not easy because the intermediate day is just a travel day. That’s why it’s a big burden,” said the Icelander. “There are very, very many games in the bones of our players. That’s what makes the difference.”
This is a disadvantage, especially with the game plan, which has held six more World Cup matches at intervals of 46 to 48 hours for Germany since the opening success against Qatar on January 13th. “There’s a difference between having two days off before a game like this or just one like we did. That was a big factor,” said the 63-year-old coach. While the Olympic champion from France was able to play his last main round game last Sunday, the German selection still had to play against Norway on Monday evening and travel from Kattowitz to Kraków on Tuesday, when there was no game, and then fly to Gdansk from there. “Of course you can sugarcoat that, but the truth is: It’s a significant additional burden for the team that has to travel,” says Gislason.
Despite all the justified criticism of the unfair mode, the national coach was also able to record that his team had demanded a lot from the big favorite. “The fact that we played so well against France for 40 minutes makes you very proud because we don’t have the opportunity to change that the French have. You can’t overlook that, we don’t have this power from the backcourt at the moment. Despite this, the team played very, very well and also marked well. In the end, the performance of the French goalkeeper knocked us out after we actually threw out the number one.”
Two more games for handball players
That buckling was the deciding factor in the defeat. Because while France’s regular keeper Vincent Gerard had nothing to counter the German attacking vortex in the first half and didn’t hold a ball, his substitute became the hero of the evening: Remi Desbonnet had a ball save rate of 47 percent – an incredible value, especially in a knockout game. He also outperformed the outstanding German keeper Andreas Wolff, who had a catch rate of 40 percent. “Desbonnet showed a fantastic performance, you can only take your hat off to that,” said Wolff after the final whistle. “He stole a lot of free balls, and the counter-attack, which he parried fantastically against Patrick Groetzki, was particularly important.”
In fact, the game might have turned out differently if right winger Groetzki had used his huge chance early in the second half. It would have been 20:17 for Germany. However, in addition to the pride of a strong 40 minutes, there was also a little frustration about the final phase. “In the end we gave up a bit,” said Wolff. “We lose by seven. That doesn’t reflect how the game went.” However, his boss came to a different conclusion: “I don’t think at all that we gave up. We kept going, just throwing badly,” Gislason explained.
He now has the difficult task of motivating his team for two more games that do not have the highest priority. But he was completely pragmatic and said: “Now we have another day of travel and then we play against Egypt. The good thing is that they also played today.” The focus must now be fully on the African champions, who lost their quarter-finals against Sweden 22:26. “There,” says Gislason, “we will certainly throw everything in to win the game and get the best possible result from this tournament.”