New high-profile decision maker inspires in thriller DHB

“Mertens played a huge game”
New high-profile decision maker inspires in thriller DHB

By Till Erdenberger

Lukas Mertens performs a “huge game” for the German national handball team at the right time: against Serbia, the left winger paves the way for the DHB team to the World Cup. A false step by the 26-year-old does not change anything.

The German national handball team conceded 33 goals in the important World Cup preliminary round game against Serbia. And 33 goals is way too many. Really. In its long history, the DHB team has never won a World Cup game by conceding more than 30 goals after 60 minutes. In 2023, the time had come as the German team led the whole game in a wild shootout and eventually saved a narrow lead to the finish. There were to be 34 goals. It was enough because goalkeeper Joel Birlehm saved four free throws in the final ten minutes and because Lukas Mertens delivered a dream pace that hadn’t previously been considered a top decider overall. of national coach Alfred Gislason.

Seven tries, seven hits: it couldn’t be more effective at the highest level and it’s a miracle, especially outside. The players have a fraction of a second to decide to fly into the circle to throw, ball in hand. A maximum of three quick steps, one short flight, zero time to hesitate. Once the decision is made, there is no turning back. If they land in a circle, the ball is gone. With the opponent or in the goal. The door, however, is nowhere smaller on the ground than on the outside, the angle that opens varies depending on the trajectory. Scoring goals from away is very, very complicated – “especially when you consider that in the first half he threw four times against Vladimir Cupara from a relatively small angle and hit everyone with a lot of confidence” , national coach Gislason told Sport1 after the game. his left winger and added: “Cupara is one of the best in the world from the outside. Mertens is playing a great game.”

“I will remember it more often”

Since the departure of Uwe Gensheimer, who was undoubtedly one of the best left wingers in the world, the DHB team had been yearning for a permanent solution on the left wing. Gensheimer had ended his often ill-fated national team career after the 2021 World Cup, after which experienced Matthias Musche and Marcel Schiller tried their hand at the position without being able to play firmly. Schiller was injured in the current Bundesliga season, returned to form – and later became one of the ‘tough cases’ in the nomination. Gislason relied on Lukas Mertens as a clear number one, the much more experienced Schiller had to stay at home – and he is said to have been less than enthusiastic about it.

The 1.82m Mertens from Wilhelmshaven now has 16 international appearances in the stats. The fact that there are no more is also due to the corona virus: At Chaos EM 2022, a positive test took him out of the tournament after the second game, Mertens did not return. Now, he takes the opportunity to make himself indispensable. Gislason relies entirely on Mertens, who launched his SC Magdeburg to the league title and to defend the title at the Club World Cup last season. Four goals against Qatar to start, seven against Serbia. Good publicity.

Spectacular identification figure

It’s not just the odds, it’s also how the 26-year-old scores his goals: unlike the Gensheimer, who sometimes seems to be fitted with a rubber gasket, which either cuts balls into the goal , or caressed them, at least most of the time Cleverly cast, Mertens comes even more to rebound and precision with a beautiful dynamic. Against Qatar, Mertens artistically fished a long pass from Simon Ernst through the air and slammed it into the long goal with the half-time siren. “I couldn’t have imagined it was so blatant. It was a cool goal – and then my first in the World Cup. I’ll remember it more often,” he enthused after the match. ‘opening.

He now repeated the goal almost exactly against Serbia: against the world-class goalkeeper Cupara, who rushed into the goal in a manual action, the German recognized the situation and passed the ball from the backcourt in the top corner of the goal. Prior to that, the outside jumper served teammate Christoph Steinert at Kempatrick before halftime. Actions that excite fans. The DHB team is once again on a mission that goes beyond sport.

“Our goal is to inspire people – and success is part of that,” captain Johannes Golla said in an interview with ntv.de. “We want to show the good handball that people say, it’s the team that represents us, we like to watch them. If we can do that, we will automatically draw attention to handball.” 6.27 million people watched the match against Serbia, which was so important for the continuation of the tournament. “This victory gives confidence and can still be very valuable for us,” said Gislason. Veteran Philipp Weber enthused: “A lot has grown together in a short time. Everyone is doing their best and being their man,” said the 30-year-old. “Now everyone is keeping us on their toes. They won’t underestimate us anymore.” The team will certainly claim all four points in the main round – another victory in three games could be enough to qualify for the quarter-finals.

“…then I was Dominik Klein”

When Lukas Mertens came for an interview on ARD, persistent chants of “Lukas Mertens” could be heard in the background – as was the case during the match. They visibly embarrassed the professional, just as the unfamiliar position next to ARD expert Dominik Klein made him a bit happy: He had a Christian Zeitz shirt from THW Kiel, he told the magazine “Bock auf Handball”, “but when we played handball, I was Dominik Klein or Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson.” Klein, world champion in 2007, could now be delighted with the presentation of his successor on the left wing. The Kieler alum reported “eye contact at a celebration where you know exactly what you want to convey.” For seven out of seven, the message was clear.

At the end of an eventful evening, which posted 67 goals without even changing the lead once, it almost went unnoticed that the national coach Gislason moderated without difficulty a misstep ultimately without consequence from Mertens: “Once, he did not want to leave the field, it cost us a little”, he commented with a smile to Sport1 an error made by his top scorer of the evening. The useless in numerical inferiority this time finally had no Four goals by Serbian right winger Bogdan Radivojevic in defense of the famous crowd favorite could have been expensive But because Lukas Mertens delivered the biggest offensive game of his DHB career at exactly the right time, the national team German finally held her head high in the flood of goals.

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