It was time for a clear statement from the top. At least that must have felt like that for Andreas Michelmann, which is why the President of the German Handball Federation (DHB) announced at the beginning of the week that his association would of course plan to take part in the men’s World Cup in Egypt next January. After some clubs and national players had expressed doubts and pleaded for a postponement of the World Cup or a waiver, the president spoke a word of power.
The media-effective rushing forward by Michelmann is remarkable because this need obviously does not exist among women. On the contrary: when the European Championship begins in Denmark this Thursday, the DHB team will defy all sorts of adversities – and so far not a word of complaint has come from the lips of the country’s best handball players. “We’re really happy, I was very happy when I was allowed to join the team,” said Dinah Eckerle. The goalkeeper only joined the squad last Friday, six days before the first European Championship game, because she had to be quarantined after the last game with her French club Metz HB.
In general, the preparation of the German team resembled a permanent reaction to unexpected outside influences. There were no test matches and the national coach wasn’t there. “We would never have imagined such a preparation without a test match in our life, but we just have to pay tribute to the circumstances and still prepare optimally,” said Axel Kromer, Sports Director at DHB. National coach Henk Groener is in domestic isolation because of a positive test for the Covid-19 pathogen, and it is still unclear whether he can be with the team until the first game against Romania this Thursday in Kolding. The team is currently being looked after by assistant trainer Alexander Koke, who was only able to join the team last Thursday. On Tuesday, however, he was on the charter plane with which the Germans first flew to Billund, from where the bus continued to Kolding, which is 50 kilometers away.
Originally, the German preliminary round matches were to be played in Trondheim, but the Norwegian association withdrew as co-organizer just under three weeks before the start of the tournament. The pandemic-related requirements of the Norwegian government could not be met, so that the EM will now be held entirely in Denmark. Kolding was added as a venue at short notice – two preliminary round groups and a subsequent main round group are played here.
“We are happy that we are starting, we have good tension in the group,” said Amelie Berger on Tuesday after arriving on Danish soil. Like her teammates, the 21-year-old first had to complete a PCR test before moving into the team hotel and thus diving into the tournament bubble. The Danish organizer has developed a hygiene concept in order to be able to hold the EM as possible without positive corona cases. For players, coaches and officials, this means that they are only allowed to leave the hotel for training units and games; external contacts are completely prohibited. These are demanding requirements for the athletes because there will be no distractions in the next two weeks. “I will read a lot,” announced Luisa Schulze. The anticipation of the international tournament outshines the prospect of being “locked up” in the hotel.
For the organizers, the sealed-off bubbles are the best way to hold the EM. Because all 16 teams are together for almost two weeks at the two locations in Kolding and Herning, the risk of infections is comparatively low. Some teams would not change location until the finals. In any case, the Danes feel well prepared. In the event of a positive test, the entire team must be isolated, followed by further close-knit testing. This is currently the case with the first German opponent: A quick test had given a Romanian player a positive result. The EM host rejected the request to postpone the game on Wednesday. The anticipation of the German handball players for the start of the European Championship could not diminish this news either.