Home » Handball European Championship: “I’m really keen to compete against such world-class players”

Handball European Championship: “I’m really keen to compete against such world-class players”

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Handball European Championship: “I’m really keen to compete against such world-class players”

Nikola Karabatic trudged a little disgruntled through the mixed zone of the Berlin Arena. Although he had just completed his 350th international match for France, the grand old man of world handball had to live with a completely unexpected setback for his team against Switzerland.

In the end it was 26:26 (14:14) for Karabatic and Co. – which suddenly changed the starting position before the showdown with the host of the European Championship. “It wasn’t a good game for us today. But luckily we didn’t lose,” said the 39-year-old. “That’s how handball is, that’s what a European Championship is like.” Every task in a continental showdown is often difficult to solve. “We have to improve everything against Germany: our shooting percentage, our counter-attack, our attack, our defense. Of course it’s always great when you play against a home team. But that will be even more difficult than against Switzerland.”

Karabatic is the superstar of an ensemble of world-class players who, surprisingly, could now be heading home after the preliminary round. A defeat against Germany and a big victory for Switzerland over North Macedonia could send the co-favorites to win the title out of the tournament on Tuesday evening.

“We are on a wave”

However, the French have often mastered such situations and, especially against Germany, have a record that gives them strength. At the World Cup a year ago, the team defeated national coach Alfred Gislason’s selection in the quarterfinals with 35:28, the last defeat at a major tournament was eleven years ago: at the 2013 World Cup there was a 30:32.

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The old man of world handball: Nikola Karabatic (l.) in the last duel with Germany in the 2023 World Cup quarter-finals

Quelle: DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Of course, the protagonists of the EM host also know those numbers, but they still believe in the chance of a coup on Tuesday (8.30 p.m., ARD/Dyn) against the seemingly overpowering opponent in Berlin. “The fans were great again, and that’s exactly what we need now against France in order to be able to beat them,” said the strong goalkeeper David Späth after the 34:25 (18:13) victory over North Macedonia, which gave Germany early entry into the main round.

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“I’m really keen to compete against such world-class players. I get to play against Nikola Karabatic for the first time. Hopefully we can put on a celebration so we can win this game,” said the 21-year-old. “We are on a wave and of course we have to keep going. “It doesn’t happen by itself. Now we’re faced with a challenge.” His team must approach the task against France in the same way as they did the first two European Championship games and not let up for a second. “Then we will continue this flow – with these fans, with this backdrop, I am very, very optimistic.”

David Späth during the game against North Macedonia

Quelle: Getty Images

In fact, things had once again gone more than well for the German handball players against North Macedonia. They followed up their 27:14 win in the opening game against Switzerland with another confident victory. Director Juri Knorr scored ten times, and once again all 16 selected players were used – which could become an important factor in the further course of the tournament in terms of strength.

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They lead the table with four points, ahead of France (three). Nevertheless, they also know that the first two opponents do not belong to quality class A of handball and that the real test awaits against the three-time Olympic champion, six-time world champion and three-time European champion at the end of the preliminary round.

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Axel Kromer also saw it the same way the day after the success. “Everything so far has gone as we hoped. We have achieved two victories, which of course cannot be seen as surprise victories, but clearly give us a lot of self-confidence,” he said on Monday morning in the German selection team hotel. “In both games we felt very confident at halftime,” said the sports director of the German Handball Federation (DHB). “We don’t want to talk disrespectfully about the past games, but now the European Championships are just getting started for us. The game against France will be a huge hit. We hope that we can set the next highlight and defeat the Olympic champion.” To do this, the German selection must maintain the ease and joy of playing that it has shown since the start on January 10th.

The captain also had great respect for his next opponent. “One of the toughest teams we can face in the tournament is now waiting for us,” explained Johannes Golla before the duel. “Individually, France is the best team alongside Denmark. Things have to go almost perfectly for us if we want to get anything.”

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Leader and captain: Johannes Golla

What: AFP

And Renars Uscins, one of four U21 world champions in Gislason’s ensemble, added: “Now it’s about the sausage. Even if it is a group game, it can be classified as the first main round game. We look at why France only drew against Switzerland. We want to make the best possible use of the weaknesses.”

It is more than questionable whether this will be successful against the ripped-off professionals from France. In addition to Karabatic, there are almost only exceptional players in the opponent’s ranks; every position is consistently filled twice as well. And for the old man in the industry, who is no longer as dominant on the field as he was for a long time, the appearance in Germany is the penultimate major tournament of an impressive career: Karabatic has won everything there is to win in handball. The Summer Games in Paris will be the crowning achievement of his career. “It’s a relief when you know that it’s over after that. Because as a professional athlete you are always thinking about the next game, the next competition, you put yourself under pressure,” said Karabatic after the draw against Switzerland. He now hopes that he won’t have to travel home early after the duel with Germany.

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