Super talent: Viola Leuchter (r.) during the test against Sweden’s Sofia Hvenfelt in Lund on Sunday
Photo: imago/Johan Nilsson
The dress rehearsal went wrong. With a score of 23:30, the German handball players lost to the strong Swedes on Sunday in Lund after a catastrophic start – they quickly found themselves hopelessly behind by 3:12. But since the DHB selection had beaten the same opponents two days earlier with 33:30 goals, national coach Markus Gaugisch was by no means dissatisfied. He found that his team had offered “good approaches” in the last two tests.
The players are also exuding confidence ahead of the start of the World Cup in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. “We’re all in a good mood,” says Hamburg-born Katharina Filter, who forms the goalkeeping team with Sarah Wachter, in an interview with “nd”: “I have a good feeling.” In fact, the DHB selection starts as favorites in preliminary group F , in Herning, Denmark, they will face Japan this Thursday, then Iran and Poland.
The World Cup in three countries
Modus: 32 teams play in the preliminary round in eight groups of four, the best three from each group move on to the main round – and take their preliminary round points with them. The best two of the four main round groups with six teams each qualify for the quarter-finals. Then it continues in knockout mode.Venues: In six cities, each in the three host countries. In Denmark the games are played in Frederikshavn and Herning – the DHB selection also plays all its games in Herning. The Jyske Bank Boxen arena there is the largest in the tournament with 15,000 seats. Trondheim and Stavanger are the Norwegian venues, in Sweden the games are played in Gothenburg and Helsingborg. Qualification: The world champions or the best team that has not yet qualified will secure a direct ticket to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. The DHB selection is aiming for a place in the top seven. This would guarantee participation in one of the qualifying tournaments. A total of twelve teams will start at the Summer Games. Hosts France, European champions Norway, South Korea, Angola and Brazil have already qualified.TV: The games are not shown on free TV. The Internet broadcaster Sportdeutschland.TV broadcasts all 112 World Cup games and charges 15 euros. Individual games cost 5 euros, the final round pass with the four decisive games costs 10 euros.dpa/nd
The coach and team have declared a place in the quarter-finals as their minimum goal. In order not to jeopardize this goal, the women of the DHB are obliged to win three preliminary rounds. In the main round, the team led by captains Alina Grijseels and Emily Bölk will probably face Serbia, Romania and hosts Denmark, one of the title favorites – and only the first two teams will qualify for the quarter-finals, which will be played in knockout mode.
They are all “tough opponents,” says the national coach. But you know what’s coming for the team. »The possibilities are there. But that also means: We have to be really good. Gaugisch emphasized that they only had the World Cup in mind. But participation in the quarterfinals also means the chance of taking part in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. “That’s my big dream,” says goalkeeper Filter, who is under contract with the French Champions League club Brest.
For the German handball players, it would be the first time they have taken part in the Olympics since Beijing 2008 – and an opportunity to make positive headlines again after the abuse scandal surrounding coach André Fuhr. An investigation commission is still investigating the allegations; the report is scheduled for autumn 2024. “It would be important for women’s handball that the team in Herning achieves its goals,” says DHB President Andreas Michelmann, who will once again accompany the handball players from day one.
However, the start of the World Cup is tough. The unorthodox Japanese players, who have to make up for their size disadvantages with a lot of speed, only finished eleventh and tenth at the previous world championships. But the team around attacker Harunu Sasaki (BVB Dortmund) recently made the scene sit up and take notice when they first defeated Spain, fourth in the World Cup (31:29) and then literally dismantled the Serbians (38:22). The team has to be vigilant, says Filter. “The Japanese play very differently, a style of play that we don’t have in Europe.”
Even before the tournament, however, the DHB selection had to cope with a serious setback: in the penultimate test, right-hander Xenia Smits, one of the central figures in the national coach’s tactical concept, injured her thigh. The Bietigheim native has been in outstanding form in the past few weeks and is absolutely world-class in both attack and defense. It is still unclear whether the 29-year-old can return to the World Cup squad. Mareike Thomaier from Leverkusen took her place.
The loss of Smits will probably increase the strain on the main attackers Bölk and Grijseels. The pressure on the two right-handers was already great in the previous tournaments because the right back didn’t pose enough of a goal threat and the opposing defenses were able to concentrate on Bölk and Grijseels.
In this respect, the focus is now on a young debutante, the 19-year-old Viola Leuchter. The 1.85 meter tall left-hander from TSV Bayer Leverkusen is equipped with a powerful throw and is already being described by some experts as a “talent of the century” – so she was able to fill the vacuum on the half-right. On the other hand, the Aachen native still lacks international experience and will only be playing her tenth international match at the start of the World Cup.
The teenager said she wasn’t putting any pressure on herself. She’s not the only newcomer. Goalkeeper Wachter (Dortmund), the dangerous half-left Toni-Luisa Reinemann (Oldenburg) and the recently very strong playmaker Annika Lott (Thüringer HC) are also contesting their first World Cup. Due to the demanding schedule, which includes a game every two days, they will receive a lot of playing time.
During the preparation, the national coach placed the emphasis on defense. »The defense is our basis that is supposed to win us games. We have developed new processes, especially in terms of anticipatory play,” said Gaugisch. In any case, a lot will depend on the question of whether the defense at the start of the World Cup on Thursday can withstand the Japanese attack.
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