Giving everything, getting nothing: celebrated DHB team is responsible for the great tragedy

The German national handball team would have needed a miracle to beat Denmark. They offer the top favorites for the European Championship a big fight in the semi-finals, lead for a long time – and are disappointed in the end. The disillusionment tells a lot about the game.

What happened in the Lanxess Arena?

National coach Alfred Gislason demanded “the best performance of the last decades” from his team in order to be able to beat the Danes, this overpowering super team full of exceptional talent. In nine out of ten games, they agreed, they would lose to Denmark. But that one day, the day of the Cologne miracle, should have been today. He didn’t. Although the German team had invested everything, even though they had met most of the national coach’s requirements, especially in the first half. At the end it was 26:29. Germany mourned with a blank stare, Denmark continues its mission to win the title.

The German fans, who were taken offensively by the players to take responsibility for this game, were on fire: the Danish national anthem hadn’t even ended when the fans were already clapping. Awaiting the big game, ready to make the required contribution. And they got off to an enthusiastic start, in the stands and on the field: Germany’s number 1 mentality player, Kiel’s Rune Dahmke, was hot in defense and attack early on. Renars Uscins, who was called up in the right back for the departed Kai Häfner, played as if it were not Häfner but himself, the U21 world champion, who had won the European Championship title in 2016. When Christoph Steinert powerfully defeated Denmark’s Simon Pytlick in the 5th minute, the tone for this game was set.

The German team did what they had worried about in Denmark: they fielded a defense that seemed to have a hundred rubber arms and legs. They met the nimble individual talents with tremendous intensity. Instead of the target shooting feared by goalkeeper Andreas Wolff, the German players offered the Danes a wild handball fight. It was exactly the game they wanted to deliver to the overwhelming favorites. “We beat each other up for 60 minutes,” Steinert summed up afterwards. Denmark’s superstar Mathias Gidsel, whose circles narrowed the German defense more successfully than any team had ever achieved in this tournament, looked as if he had wrestled with a bear. The truth was not far from the picture.

“Insanely intense, emotional, merciless in defense and Renars Uscins rose from the ashes like a phoenix,” praised DHB sports director Axel Kromer at halftime. Greater efficiency on offense should be a key to the miracle. And they held world-class goalkeeper Niklas Landin to 25 percent saved balls. The multiple world goalkeeper did not come onto the field after the break. And that was the problem. Because the Danes still have Emil Nielsen, a second-class man. And he slammed the door in the Germans’ faces again. The 26-year-old made eight saves by the middle of the second half. The Danes turned a deficit into a lead and never relinquished it.

The ensemble of top stars improved and the German defense no longer had such merciless access to the Danish shooters. The top favorites achieved an incredible 74 percent attack effectiveness in the second half, and in the end they had played around 100 more passes. The DHB team was visibly running out of strength, even though they fought back with everything they had until the last second.

“I am very, very proud of us,” said captain Johannes Golla on ZDF. “Especially about the first half, but also about the 60 minutes of fight that we put up.” At the end, the hall celebrated the German team as if they had won. It’s the great tragedy: They had done everything for a miracle, but mentality only beats this great quality in one out of ten games. This one day, it wasn’t today.

The scene of the game:

The scenes of the game only took place long after the end of the game: If you wanted to know what men looked like who had invested everything in a dream and had to see it burst, all you had to do was look at the German players. There was no defiance, no “Now especially”, and no pride about what had been achieved at this European Championship in general and in this most difficult game that world handball currently has to offer in particular. It was just emptiness. They sat on the bench, on the field. They stared at the ground or at the air. Rune Dahmke, Johannes, Golla, Juri Knorr, Christoph Steinert. Every man for himself. It took forever for them to gather themselves to sneak into the cabin.

The level of disappointment also tells a lot about what they had thrown into it and how close they felt to actually getting something really great. “Today was a day on which we could have beaten Denmark. That’s why the disappointment is so great,” said Steinert. They had their hands close to the stars for a long time, which is why the height of the fall was so great in the end.

A look into the Danes’ dressing room showed how big it was: coach Nikolaj Jacobsen was shouting his relief and joy in all directions. The previous 60 minutes were also hard work for the world champion maker. “I’m very proud of the boys, they delivered a phenomenal first half. We gave up too much in the second half,” said national coach Alfred Gislason on ZDF: “In the end, the Danes’ routine prevailed, they are the best team in the game World.”

And would we have been European champions?

A look at the history of the great German handball triumphs of the last 20 years definitely speaks for itself: in both the winter fairy tale in 2007 and the European Championship triumph of the “Bad Boys” in 2016, the German team beat a team in the final that they were against had lost in the preliminary round of the respective tournament. In 2007 they met Poland twice, and in 2016 they took revenge on Spain in the final for a defeat in the preliminary round. France would have waited in the final, having beaten the DHB team 33:30 in the preliminary round. But history doesn’t repeat itself. At least not at the 2024 European Handball Championship.

The German team would have needed the perfect day to beat Denmark. She couldn’t create it. It remains pointless to think about the finale. Against Sweden on Sunday (3 p.m./ARD, Dyn and live ticker) It’s now about third place and bronze. That would also be the biggest success for German handball since Olympic bronze in 2016. Third place at the European Championships also means direct qualification for the Olympic Games in the summer. New, worthwhile goals await.

The shock before kick-off:

At 6:51 p.m., almost two hours before kick-off for the big game, the DHB made bitter news official, which had already been rumored through the arena’s catacombs: Kai Häfner would not be available to the German team at short notice. “The left-hander left the team headquarters for personal reasons,” the statement said. Häfner had already missed the preliminary round game of the DHB selection in Berlin against North Macedonia because he had recently become a father for the second time. There are things that are more important than a handball game.


Johannes Golla (DHB captain on ZDF): “In the second half we didn’t quite get the grip, in defense, as we had in the first half. Of course, that also has to do with the good play of the Danes. We also left some opportunities open in front of the goal. Man I have to praise the Danes’ goalkeeper, Emil Nielsen, the change was worth it. But I’m still very, very proud, especially of the first half – but also of the 60 minutes of fight that we put up. I think it was a perfect one There’s something in it every day, then we can keep it up for the entire 60 minutes. Today wasn’t the perfect day, we’ll also find mistakes in our analysis and things that we can do much better. So: Denmark is safe We are currently superior, but this has shown that we are on the right track.”

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