News : German handball players start in Olympic qualification: Back to Fort Knox – Sport
The defense of the German national handball team once had the reputation of being a kind of Fort Knox. A heavily protected security zone, like the famous military base in the US state of Kentucky, where the US gold reserves are stored. A defense that either ricochets off or only allows goals to be conceded with great pain. This is what matters in handball, among other things: to allow the opponent to score goals only with the greatest possible effort.
At the World Cup in Egypt, which the German team finished twelfth in January, there was never any mention of Fort Knox, the defense – plagued by failures – sometimes resembled a gazebo, secured with a thin snap hook. Against stronger opponents, the booth wobbled worryingly, as Hungarian and Spanish attackers were already walking very easily through the rear German part of the team. One wobbler and the middle was blank – Fort Nix instead of Fort Knox.
Now the Olympic qualification is in Berlin, so paradoxical is this Corona season, the even more important tournament this year. The World Cup takes place every two years, the Olympics only every four: Two places are still awarded, starting Friday on three days in games against Sweden, Slovenia and Algeria. The games in Tokyo are the declared goal of the team, which is why some players are returning who skipped the World Cup: the Berlin strategist Fabian Wiede, but above all the deeply well-rehearsed trio of THW Kiel – Hendrik Pekeler, Patrick Wiencek and Steffen Weinhold, three defense specialists with more than 100 international matches each.
Your decision to forego the pandemic World Cup had caused displeasure in the team. Goalkeeper Andreas Wolff had accused his teammates of doing their best for their club at the end of December and winning the Champions League, but abandoning the national team. The topic disrupted preparations for the World Cup for days. Pekeler was insulted ugly on social networks, it was that bad.
There is no technical discussion about Gislason’s nomination
Little or nothing remained of the atmospheric disturbances, national coach Alfred Gislason has always made it clear that he is keeping the Kiel players’ seats free. Now it starts, on Friday with the first game against the World Cup runner-up Sweden (3.15 p.m., ARD), with the three Champions League winners. “The people of Kiel have the advantage that I’ve worked with them forever,” says Gislason, the Icelander was a coach in Kiel from 2008 to 2019: “Everyone already knows what I’ve done with the team.” There is no technical discussion about this step, unlike in the national soccer team, where Joachim Löw has to decide in his last months as national coach whether he should bring back players like Thomas Müller, Mats Hummels or Jérôme Boateng (although he has long planned without them Has).
All handball players agree that a team with Pekeler, Wiencek and Weinhold is stronger than a team without them. You know all the defense systems favored by Gislason by heart, whether 6-0, 5-1 or 3-2-1. “We don’t need a lot of coordination,” says Wiencek, “we all know how the defense is played.”
Klaus-Dieter Petersen is also someone who knows his way around a good defensive game. In the nineties and early 2000s, he held the defense of the THW Kiel and the German national team together, he came up with 340 international matches, celebrated eight championships with Kiel, and today he heads the junior school for the North Germans. He has known “Peke” and “Bam-Bam”, as he calls Pekeler and Wiencek, since 2005, when Petersen was coaching the national youth team. “The Swedes would be happy if Kiel didn’t play,” he says.
Petersen thinks it is logical that Gislason is operating extensively on the team for the Olympic qualification. Unlike at the World Cup, when Johannes Golla and Sebastian Firnhaber formed the middle block, Pekeler / Wiencek now take over this part. Golla slips into the role of the supplementary player, Firnhaber is no longer in the squad. Either Weinhold or Wiede play on the half right, in the left backcourt Gislason initially had one more option with the return of Sebastian Heymann – but this was no longer available due to the injury to Paul Drux (external meniscus damage in the left knee) on Wednesday. He still “counted down the days”, says Gislason, until he could finally get started with this team.
The trainer can now devote himself to other construction sites
But is it that easy? A couple of players return and suddenly everything should flood again? “You can’t decide everything on your own,” says Petersen, knowing how central the statics of a handball team depend on the staff in the back center. “The whole team gets their security through the defensive game,” explains Petersen: “The others to the left and right of them can act more calmly when the Kielers are there.”
Shortly before the end of the phone call, Petersen mentioned an important point: “I’m happy for Alfred. He can finally use the training for other things.” For the back attack or the speed game, for example, two other construction sites that were obvious at the World Cup. After all, Alfred Gislason no longer has to worry about the defense.