Handball European Championship 2024: The DHB selection is on its way to the top after the European Championship

European champion France with Nedim Remili, the most valuable player in the European Championship, was – still – too strong for the talented DHB team.

Foto: imago/camera4

Alfred Gislason frowned. The coach of the German handball players had to stop and think when he was asked to draw a conclusion after his team’s last appearance at the home European Championship and to classify where his team stood in comparison to the international leaders. Then the 64-year-old said: “We don’t have the experience of Denmark, France and Sweden, but we have a lot of talent.”

The Icelander named exactly the three competitors who ended up at the European Championships before being selected by the German Handball Federation (DHB). With the French’s 33:31 final win in extra time against Denmark on Sunday evening, the industry leaders had once again won the medals, while the hosts had to be content with the thankless fourth place after losing the game for third place against Sweden. There were defeats against the three top nations during the tournament with a difference of three goals. “It’s no coincidence,” says Gislason, “they’re standing in front of us for a reason.”

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However, the national coach believes that the gap has narrowed significantly. “We have moved significantly closer than we did a year ago,” Gislason recognized. The trend speaks for Germany, says backcourt shooter Sebastian Heymann: “We’re not far away and we’re all still young. If we manage to consistently deliver our performance over 60 minutes, we will come even closer. The future, so the message goes, could belong to the DHB selection. With David Späth, Nils Lichtlein, Justus Fischer and Renars Uscins, who particularly attracted attention in the last two European Championship games, there were four players in Gislason’s squad who had previously won the U21 World Cup.

A player like Juri Knorr, who orchestrates the German attack in the middle position in the backcourt, is just 23. Gislason would like to teach him and his teammates to internalize the change of rhythm that the best masters inside out and not with their heads to go through the wall: “Patience, play differently – if that works, I’ll be very optimistic.”

After the defeat in the semifinals against Denmark, Knorr gave insights into his mental life. The playmaker admitted that he “allowed himself to be paralyzed a bit by the fear of the magnitude of the moment.” He “didn’t want to experience something like that again. It’s not worth it.« The greatest German handball talent of the past ten years – elected to the European Championship All-Star team together with goalkeeper Andreas Wolff – and his colleagues believe they are only at the beginning of a development that will happen at the home World Cup at the latest should lead to the top in 2027, but ideally already at the major events before that. Gislason wishes his favorite student a little more calm: “Juri is a great player, but he is not the savior of the nation.”

This European Championship was just a stopover for the Germans on their way to the top. That’s why the team decided to forego the invitation of Cologne’s mayor Henriette Reker to the city’s historic town hall. Such an appointment “doesn’t feel right for us for a number of reasons,” said Captain Johannes Golla: “We’re not at the end of our journey yet. That’s why we don’t belong at a reception like this yet.”

On the plus side, the hosts can boast the world record crowd of 53,000 visitors at the opener against Switzerland in Düsseldorf, the great atmosphere during the preliminary round in Berlin and the main round in Cologne, as well as fantastic ratings: the semi-final game against Denmark alone had almost ten million viewers followed in front of the screens. The sport of handball has done a lot of advertising on its own behalf. “What has happened in this country in the last two and a half weeks is simply great,” says cyclist Jannik Kohlbacher.

Germany’s handball players want to take the next step in mid-March when they compete against Croatia, Austria and Algeria in Hanover for two tickets to the Summer Olympics in Paris. Backcourt player Philipp Weber firmly believes that it will be possible to get the right to start in the big tournament in the French capital: “The development is going in the right direction. Namely, uphill.”

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