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Corona alarm at the DHB: The great tremor before the heroes return

Corona alarm at the DHB
The great trembling before the return of the heroes

By Till Erdenberger

The German national handball team has to worry before the preliminary round final: A massive corona outbreak has hit the team, seven players have now tested positive. Prominent national players rush to help.

Things went so well with the German national handball team. The inexperienced team wins the first two preliminary round games at the European Championships, with Julius Kühn there is only one corona case in the first days of the tournament. But then things get really tough: Five players all test positive in one fell swoop, with Kai Häfner, Timo Kastening and goalkeeper Andreas Wolff three of the few who have made it through fail, with Lukas Mertens the second-best scorer from the second preliminary round game. All are missing at least in the preliminary round final against Poland (6 p.m. / ZDF and in the live ticker on ntv.de) and in the first main round game. After five days, players can test themselves. Kühn is also out.

Former DHB captain Uwe Gensheimer speaks of a “shock”, the “worst-case scenario. I’m incredibly sorry for the team and everyone affected.” In terms of sport, the DHB is trying to spectacularly repair the surprising corona outbreak: With Fabian Wiede and Rune Dahmke, two of the sensational European champions from 2016 made their way, 2007 world champion Johannes Bitter will make a comeback more than 20 years after his first international match and Olympic medalist Paul Drux was also quick to help the team. Although the Berliner actually wanted to take a break.

The anxious wait for the test results

“We’re still a bit worried that we’ll never really be there from the start. It has to get a little better,” national coach Alfred Gislason said after the game against Austria. Now the first thing to do is who is there at the beginning: All subsequently nominated players have to present a negative PCR test by kick-off. Only on Monday did the DHB delegation warn that the laboratories in Bratislava had to increase the speed.

The entire German entourage will be tested again today. Until the results are available, you have to tremble. It cannot be ruled out that there will be more tests in addition to the previous seven positive tests. At the weekend, Wagner, who was subsequently nominated for Kühn, had no contact with the team at all when the European Championship was over for him again: The backcourt player tested positive and is in isolation.

How did the Corona outbreak come about? Enigmatic. “I don’t even know where that comes from. It’s hardly possible to be better isolated and careful than we are. I don’t understand how he got infected,” said national coach Alfred Gislason, looking at Julius Kühn. It is undisputed that the situation is doing something to the team. Backcourt player Christoph Steinert said that something like that “can’t be gotten out of my head”. “The impacts are getting closer,” said the man from Erlangen – mind you, before the new big bad news. The impacts came with power and hit the German team fully. DHB sports director Axel Kromer assured the sports information service: “We scheduled two team meetings with the players and asked them openly for their opinion. They were consistently motivated to continue giving everything here,” reported Kromer.

With the arrival of the new quintet, assuming they are allowed to play that evening, the history of the team changes a bit. Drux, Wiede and Dahmke have been playing at the highest international level for many years, all have already won European titles with the national team or their clubs. The 39-year-old Bitter had already been chosen as an experienced leader for a young team in upheaval when he made his first comeback to the 2020 European Championship. Although none of them were involved in the latest DHB measures in preparation for the European Championship, each of the returnees played under Gislason. The requirements and the tactical processes are known.

“Can be successful against Poland”

Perhaps the story of 2016 will be told again, as a rallying cry, perhaps also as a pleasant whistle in the woods or as an encouraging reminder of the last great “now more than ever” moment in German handball. At that time, the DHB selection, shaken by cancellations, sensationally won the title. At that time, Kühn and Häfner of all people had moved up for the semi-finals and immediately took center stage from the sofa.

Now it’s the two Melsungers who have to be replaced at short notice. Bob Hanning, long-time Vice President of the DHB, comments relatively calmly on the exchange of five players at once: “As far as the issue of additional commitments is concerned, we are in an absolute luxury situation,” says the maker of Bundesliga club Füchse Berlin to ntv.de. “I am sure that everyone will do their job in such a way that we can be successful against Poland.”

European champion Wiede will soon have to take the place of Häfner as a strong and dangerous leading player in the right backcourt, Drux can replace Kühn in the right backcourt or play in the middle. Both Berliners “immediately agreed to help” when the call came from Bratislava, says Hanning ntv.de. Wiede had canceled the national coach for family reasons, but in the meantime things had “relented a bit so that he could travel to Bratislava with a clear conscience”. Drux actually wanted to skip the EM in order to regenerate after months with several operations and high strain with club and national team. But he also has the physical condition to play in this tournament, says Hanning, “if he’s used in moderation”.

“Do or die” game

There is no time to import. Although the German team, like Poland, has already qualified for the main round, the preliminary round final is already about the first points for the main round. There, with Spain, Sweden, Norway and Russia, the “ne plus ultra of world handball” (Stefan Kretzschmar) is waiting for the once again mixed-up team. If you start with zero points in this sporty elephant round, it is probably only about experiences for the home EM 2024.

Hanning has already declared the encounter a “do-or-die” game. The German team “only has a real chance at the handball championship if we go into the main round without losing a point. But that was also the goal of the German team from the start,” wrote Hanning in his EM column for the ” foosball”. With a win behind you, there is at least a chance of a placement game for fifth place. It would be a good result. It would be an even greater success, however, if all players could ultimately return to their clubs in good health. “If one of the boys were to suffer health damage, it would be the absolute worst case scenario,” said former international Christian Schwarzer “Spox”.

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