Guillaume Gille searched for words. On the one hand, this was due to the fact that the French national coach had to make his statement in English after the opening game of the Handball World Championship – only the congratulations to the opponent and “the great scenery” went smoothly over his lips. The 46-year-old was still visibly busy assessing his team’s performance: “It was expected to be difficult and an extremely important win, I’m just happy.”
Then France, the Olympic champion, had defeated Poland with 26:24 goals, but was not convincing. Rather, the ensemble of these world-class players got into dire straits against the co-hosts. The Poles let themselves be driven to a passionate and respectable performance by the officially 9999 spectators in the Spodek Arena in Katowice and were close to a surprise up to the intermediate score of 21:21 a good ten minutes before the end.
But the French are one of those teams where there are players who do the right thing in such tricky moments. Like Kentin Mahe, 31, who converted all of his seven-yard shots and was the best scorer with five goals. Like Nikola Karabatic, 34, who didn’t excel as a goalscorer, but dictated the pace of the game with all his experience from nine World Cup appearances. First he drove his colleagues forward with the attack-like counterattacks, in the tight final phase he took time off the clock with individual actions. Or like Dika Mem, who took responsibility with his throws.
France goalkeeper Vincent Gerard is there at the crucial moment. Next season he will play in Kiel
The decisive factor in the game was the uncompromising defense work by goalkeeper veteran Vincent Gerard. The 36-year-old gives his colleagues security and was there with his saves in the most delicate phase. It is not for nothing that THW Kiel chose him to fill the vacancy in the coming season for world handball player Niklas Landin, who is moving to the Danish top club Aalborg in his home country for family reasons.
All of these players have won World Cups and Olympic gold and have been under contract with top European clubs for years. National coach Gille, who was also decorated with all the important titles as an active player, has a high-class and broad squad at his disposal, most of whom are in their mid-twenties in their best handball age, such as playmaker Nedim Remili, who won the first title of best player in a game at the World Cup home. In addition, backcourt talents such as Melvyn Richardson or Thibaud Briet are increasingly being successfully integrated into the squad. If you want to become world champion at this tournament, you first have to get past the French.
Nevertheless, there are still things that need to be improved, as Karabatic admitted in German that “something still screwed up, especially in attack”. He was satisfied with the defense, as well as with the “special atmosphere” in the sold-out arena. The same inspired the individually inferior Poland, in which the majority of the players also play for top European clubs, to a passionate and combative performance. The Poles twice caught up from a significant deficit, especially the saves by goalkeeper Adam Morawski, who is under contract with Bundesliga club MT Melsungen, kept the Poles in the game.
The committed appearance of the outsider could be a model for the German team on how to effectively tackle a supposedly superior favorite. The convoy landed in Katowice on Thursday at 12:08 p.m. as planned and will start the tournament against Qatar on Friday evening (6 p.m.).