Gizeh (dpa) – The heavy lumps will come later: the lucky ticket for the preliminary round of the World Cup provided relief for the German handball players.
“This is a nice group,” said national coach Alfred Gislason Saturday evening after the draw in front of the breathtaking backdrop of the pyramids of Giza. In the first final in history with 32 teams from 13 to 31 January 2021 in Egypt, the DHB squad will meet the ninth EM Hungary and the World Cup newcomers Uruguay and Cape Verde.
“We will be the favorite in the front group, although Hungary played very well at the European Championship this year. We want to fulfill this favorite role,” said captain Uwe Gensheimer. Goalkeeper veteran Johannes Bitter reacted in a similar way to the World Cup draw: “We are the absolute favorites in a very interesting group. We won’t see other strong opponents until later.”
In the case of the planned progress – the first three teams of the eight preliminary round groups qualify for the next tournament phase – the first sporting heavyweight would have to wait in the main round with European champions Spain. Other potential opponents are Brazil, Tunisia and Poland. “With all due respect to Cape Verde and Uruguay, we have to win the most important game against Hungary if we want to have a good starting position in the main round,” said DHB chairman Andreas Michelmann when formulating the first tournament goal.
In the knockout phase it could only become very difficult for Germany. Possible opponents in a possible quarter-final include second and third places at the World Cup in Norway, as well as six-time World Champion France. Bob Hanning, vice president of DHB, therefore said: “At first glance, that’s an easy draw. I’m glad we have some good games to develop by then.”
National coach Gislason, who took over the post from the unfortunate Christian Prokop in early February and should lead the DHB selection to the first medal since the Olympic bronze in 2016, warned of too much euphoria. “The rest of the tournament could be more difficult for us than on the other side of the table,” said the 60-year-old Icelander.
The corona crisis has cost the successful trainer a lot of time to prepare. It was not until early November that he was able to bring the national team together in the run-up to the European Championship qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Estonia for a first seminar and put his signature.
The extreme stress in the busy season poses another problem. “The players have a lot of matches in a short time. I have to be careful not to train wrong,” said Gislason. He therefore hopes that the IHF World Association will allow exceptionally larger World Cup teams: “It would help if you had maybe 20 instead of 16 players on the ground.”
The final round in the four locations of Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and New Capital is already heavily affected by the pandemic. Strict hygiene rules apply everywhere, and the hall capacity may be used for a maximum of 30 percent. Nevertheless, the expectation for the XXL event is huge. “I still hope that this World Handball Championship and thus all of us can be at least one light in the tunnel, if not the light at the end of the tunnel,” said DHB boss Michelmann.