Bitter memory of 2015
When some saw the DHB team badly shaken
By Till Erdenberger, Gdansk
01/25/2023, 5:13 p.m.
The German national handball team will play their World Cup quarter-finals against France in the evening. It’s the first time in eight years – and the last time it’s ended bitterly and with a lot of anger. He shouldn’t have gone this far in the first place.
Juri Knorr, the director of a new generation DHB who has been so convincing so far, says to himself “before what is probably the biggest game of my career”: In the evening (8.30 p.m. / ARD and in the live ticker on ntv.de) Germany’s national handball team will play their World Cup quarter-finals against record-breaking world champions France, against reigning Olympic champions. “We have to approach the match with passion. We will put our hearts in our hands and make up for what we may lack experience against the French with the fight,” promised goalkeeper Andreas Wolff, who has so far showed remarkable. A World Cup quarter-final is something special.
It has been eight years since the German national handball team, world champions in 1978 and 2007, could not play a quarter-final of a World Cup. And the memory is dark. “We didn’t play our best game,” Silvio Heinevetter, visibly struggling for his words, told Sky. And then the national goalkeeper at the time added: “But today we can’t win the match, everyone knows that.” The DHB team lost to Qatar at 24:26 – and at least Heinevetter felt shaken.
“Everyone knows what I’m thinking”
“We’re always guests here, so you have to be careful what you say. But anyone who’s seen the game and has an idea knows what I’m thinking.” The Macedonian referee team had at least decided on a visibly different interpretation of passive play. While the DHB team received the signal early on to complete their attacks faster, the hosts had plenty of time to organize their attacking play.
The Austrians had a similar experience before, at least they felt as unfairly treated as Heinevetter at 27:29 in the round of 16 against the hosts: “We were called as many offensive fouls in the second half as in the entire tournament before. Qatar seems to have covered well,” laughed Austrian captain Viktor Szilagyi, now general manager of THW Kiel. “Maybe that’s to be expected. It’s hard for me to accept.” Coach Patrekur Johanesson “wouldn’t comment on the referees” after his side lost in the Round of 16, but did so subtly with his prediction for the rest of the tournament: “I think Qatar will be champions of the world”. It didn’t go that far, Qatar lost to France in the final.
German handball legend Stefan Kretzschmar soberly qualified the events of late January 2015: “Of course there were sometimes double standards, but there weren’t many blatantly bad decisions”, wrote the player national to 218 selections in a chronicle for Sport1. “It was an adventure in the last ten minutes against Austria in the round of 16, and we Germans suffered a bit from that too. But it wasn’t so striking that after the game you thought: for God’s sake, we were really screwed out there.”
“Just Not Good Enough”
“We took the result on us because we were just not good enough in the first half,” said right winger Patrick Groetzki. Paul Drux, on the other hand, preferred to do “no comment” on the match that the Germans lost against a Qatari team, a little against the referees and in front of a huge crowd of 14,500 people. “Faced with such an audience, we ideally have a small cushion”, said Drux in 2015 to the “Tagesspiegel”, “for us it was exactly the opposite: we were always running behind a deficit.” In the end, that wasn’t enough. Valero Rivera, then and now Qatar coach, just shrugs: “Home advantage is extremely important in handball, it’s well known. If this game had been played in Germany, the Germans would have won.”
The World Cup was awarded to Qatar in January 2011, just weeks after the emirate won the bid for the controversial 2022 World Cup which had just ended. Qatar, which hadn’t played a major role in handball before, bought a strong team for the tournament with big money: only four players in the WM-20 team. as of 2013 were locals. None of them scored a goal during the tournament.
The way to the final was paved by Montenegrins Zarko Markovic and Goran Stojanovic, world-class goalkeeper Danijel Saric, a Bosnian, Frenchman Bertrand Roiné, Spaniard Borja Vidal Fernández and Cuban Rafael Capote. Because in handball, unlike football, where you can only play senior international matches for one country, all it takes is a three-year international break to change nations, Qatar has been able to build a powerful team of stars. Supposedly there was 100,000 euros for every World Cup game won – per player. In handball, where six-figure annual salaries are reserved for the absolute top stars, that’s a huge amount of money.
Much of the truth, however, is that Germany should not have had a presence in Qatar. On the sporting level, qualification for the playoffs against Poland was missed in two games. But because the world association expelled the Australians, who were rather insignificant for world handball, from the World Cup, the DHB team was able to go up – after the criteria for awarding the successor were quickly changed in favor of Germany. “Somehow a strange feeling to be qualified in this way,” national player Patrick Groetzki tweeted at the time. The deal was cut short for the DHB selection, who surprisingly became European champions a year later – and lost again to Qatar at the 2017 World Cup, this time in the round of 16 and in France.
The French felt cheated in 2007
The memory of the Lusail evening is no longer fresh, of the current squad only the very young Paul Drux and Groetzki, meanwhile German record holder in the World Cup, were there. But the date is on the calendar: January 28, 2015, the last quarter-final of the World Cup for a German men’s national handball team. Admission will be removed in the evening. On neutral ground, no home advantage.
The new DHB generation will have to play their best game to have a chance against France. Johannes Golla even spoke about the ‘perfect game’ it takes to finally win a knockout game again. They last beat France at the World Cup in 2007, in the semi-finals. It was 10:31 p.m. in Dortmund’s Westfalenhalle after two extra hours – as the controversial Swedish referees failed to recognize France’s equaliser. “The decisions of the arbitration are moving away and unfortunately you can’t do anything,” said the technical director of the French Football Federation, Philippe Bana, at the time.
On the eve of the match, the Frenchman spoke with the president of the World Handball Federation, the Egyptian Hassan Moustafa. “We told him we didn’t want to experience what the Spaniards suffered against the Germans in the quarter-finals,” Bana said. “The message obviously did not arrive.”
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