From Podgorica in Montenegro to Skopje in North Macedonia you fly over the Albanian Alps, called Prokletije, the enchanted mountains. The German handball players almost didn’t sit in this charter plane on Thursday morning, together with the Montenegrin and Spanish handball players, to be able to look at the impressive mountain range from above.
One goal less the night before in the last preliminary round group game in the 21:23 defeat against Spain and one goal more, then the selection of the German Handball Association should have already flown home after only three games at the European Championship. That would have been quite uncomfortable, but the players weren’t overly enthusiastic either.
They now don’t take a single point into the main round group in Skopje, where they play the Netherlands (Friday), France (Tuesday) and Romania (Wednesday). National coach Markus Gaugisch tried to make the best of this tricky situation: “We have nothing left to lose, only to win. We want to use these games to grow.”
One could say less optimistically: The dreams of the German handball players at this European Championship have been lost somewhere in the enchanted mountains. A tedious 25:23 win against Poland at the start was followed by defeats against Montenegro (25:29) and Spain (21:23), so that the two points won against the eliminated Poles were lost in the further course of the tournament. The DHB players had still defended themselves against Montenegro, but then there was a lot of chaos in the game against Spain. Almost nothing worked – maybe also because captain Emily Bölk threatened to be sent off after 20 minutes due to two time penalties.
2008 was a DHB women’s selection for the last time in a semi-final
“We are not satisfied,” said Axel Kromer, the sports director at the DHB, whereby: The German national players have never given him a reason for exuberance in his five-year tenure. The last time a German women’s team was in a semi-final was in 2008. The last time there was a medal was in 2007 with bronze at the World Championships. Since then, national coaches Rainer Osmann, Heine Jensen, Jakob Vestergaard, Michael Biegler and Henk Groener have all struggled to keep up the repetition. And for Gaugisch, too, the semi-finals won’t be a thing for the time being.
Meanwhile, year after year before the big tournaments, Kromer demanded in the same wording that the women had to “take the next step”. On Wednesday evening he spoke soberly of a “sad path”. In 2020 he initiated a “women’s handball working group”, whose “structural reform” with more professional conditions, centralized promotion of young talent and a tighter league hierarchy was approved by the DHB in 2021. Kromer said at the time: “We want to develop players who are not only known regionally, but also become prominent figures nationally, just like the men.”
So far, the players have missed the chance to do so every year at the major tournaments. Your European Championship games will again only be shown on the Internet this time, at sportdeutschland.tv. Their performances in Podgorica would hardly have been appropriate for public television. Of course, the players don’t want to hang up so quickly. “The placement at this European Championship can also be relevant for the Olympic qualification,” says the backcourt and defense specialist Xenia Smits, “that’s why we absolutely have to give it our all again in the next three games.”
The strong preparation? Not much of that can be seen at the European Championships
Gaugisch also seemed disappointed recently, especially since his team had given him even greater hopes with strong performances in preparation for the European Championship. “But we haven’t been able to get the flow of the game from the preparations on the record at the European Championship so far,” he says. For example, he noticed that the players “difficulty making decisions”, i.e. in scenes where there are several options – and then you choose the wrong one.
“Speed of action” is therefore a buzzword that Gaugisch is putting on the agenda for the coming months: “We have to improve in this regard, even in the youth field: the game is about individual qualities, a bit away from the big solutions with many Passing to quick fixes in small groups.”
Already against the Netherlands this Friday (6 p.m.), the German handball players can now play largely without pressure. It wouldn’t be the first time these eased circumstances helped them come up with a positive surprise.