What the German hockey men expect from the World Cup
Dhat a German hockey player has to work his way through a trellis of cameras and microphones after arriving at the airport was new to Mats Grambusch. But quite pleasant, even enjoyable, the captain let on. Of course, the great interest is due to the fact that hockey is in India, which has been hosting the World Championships since Friday, has the status of a popular sport. And less because the German team arrived as a natural favorite for the title due to their previous performance. Those times are long gone.
Historically, you can pretty much categorize since when: A golden decade for German men’s hockey, including two world championship titles (2002 and 2006) and two Olympic victories (2008 and 2012), ended with the European Championship title in 2013; followed by a decade without a title at the big championships, which usually ended in the semi-finals at the latest. Can this change right at the beginning of a new decade, if you will?
The recent development, the results in the duels against the world’s best opponents and the extremely optimistic attitude based on this give much hope for the selection of the German Hockey Association (DHB). Captain Grambusch initially only wanted to express his personal opinion with regard to the specific goal, because the team as a whole had not yet set a goal: “I don’t go to any tournament in the world to be satisfied with second place.” The 30-year-old was convinced that “if we talk in the group, we will quickly come to talk about gold. We have the quality for it.” The Germans start the tournament this Saturday (2:30 p.m., live on DAZN) against outsiders Japan.
Persistent financial hardships
There is a lot at stake for German men’s hockey this year. The self-image as a long-standing pacesetter and top location in world hockey is in danger of being lost. Which goes hand in hand with the question of whether the Germans, with their decentralized system, will still be able to compete against other World Cup contenders such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia and England.
While other hockey countries rely on Profitum and bring their best together in one location for around 200 days a year, national coach André Henning has to rely on the work in the clubs and the personal responsibility of his players. But that’s nothing new for those responsible and players who are still studying, training or working at the same time. Also not new are the constant financial difficulties of the DHB, which would be hit hard by reduced funding caused by possible weak performances by the national teams.
Stay relaxed is the message from the national coach. “We have always made a lot out of a little. Ten years ago we held meetings in the hotel corridor with a projector in the elevator shaft because we couldn’t afford a meeting room,” says Henning. Which led to a “high pressure to innovate” – and many good results.
Confidence of the national coach
The World Cup highlight in East India in the 20,000 and 15,000 spectator arenas of Rourkela and Bhubaneswar will be followed in the summer by the home European Championship for men and women in Mönchengladbach, which is important for the DHB. A good time to be “in top condition”, which Henning is currently recognizing in his players. The confidence of the national coach, who has been in office for a little over a year, is mainly based on the impressions from the direct duels against the top teams.
And his team has won at least one game against the top three in the world in the past six months. Among them against the current world champion, Olympic champion and second German group opponent Belgium and shortly after arrival in India against Australia. In a comparison shortened by the playing time, there was a 2:1 victory. Thanks to an “outstanding running performance”, as Henning emphasized, against the usually athletically strongest team from Down Under. A sure sign in the eyes of the national coach that everyone “did a lot of work at home”.
Despite the decentralized system, the German hockey men spent almost 100 days together in 2022. Henning is convinced that it was “quality time”. The focus was on stabilizing the defense. Defensive weaknesses were the cause of the painful defeat against India in the game for bronze at the Olympics in Tokyo 2021. The consecration of the rehearsed area coverage should initially be felt in the group phase by the Japanese, who, like the South Koreans, should not pose a major hurdle.
It will probably be a matter of winning the group and going straight to the quarter-finals against Belgium on Tuesday. The Germans compete with a mix of young and experienced players. Seven players have completed more than 100 international matches. And who knows, maybe six international matches later there will be a nice reception with cameras and microphones at home.