Playing under the watchful eyes of handball legend Ivano Balic, the German Junior National team was completely overwhelmed on Tuesday night in their first main round match of the U18 European Championship. Host nation Croatia ended up winning 21-32, but even at half-time the squad under coaching trio Jochen Beppler, Andre Haber and Klaus Langhoff was facing a 7-18 goal deficit. MT youngster Dimitri Ignatow (photo: dhb.de), one of the tournaments top scorers in the preliminary round, was held scoreless.
The evening in Koprivnica actually ran even longer than expected: the lights suddenly went out on 47 minutes, forcing a quarter-hour suspension of the match. It might well have symbolised the effort of the DHB squad, which had previously won all of its preliminary round matches going away.
"Let's not beat around the bush. Croatia was the better team and we managed almost nothing in the first half. While we had free shots, our efficiency was low. The Croats earned the win", Beppler said.
A victory over Croatia would have punched the German teams ticket to the semi-finals, given that Serbia had beaten Iceland in the first match of main round group II (36-31). But now the Germans will need some Croatian help ahead of the second and final main round match against Iceland on Wednesday (5 pm, Livestream). With one main round match behind them, the Euros host nation is on a clear course to the semis with 4:0 points; they are followed by the DHB side and Serbia, each holding 2:2, and then Iceland (0:4).
If both Germany and Serbia win on Wednesday, then the three teams will all have the same points and tiebreakers will apply. The DHB team beat Serbia in the preliminary round 25-18, so they would enter the standings with 2:2 for points and a -4 goal differential. Should Serbia beat Croatia by four or more goals, then they would advance to the semi-finals. A Croatian victory against Serbia, however, means the Germans would advance even if they lose a squeaker against Iceland (or tie).
"We still have a second chance. But to beat Iceland, we're going to have to play better", Beppler says. His team bested Iceland the last two times they met, in tournaments in Merzig and Lübeck.
The first half on Tuesday evening against the physically robust Croats was a lesson in humility for the young German players. Again and again the DHB offence crashed in vain against the outstanding seawall of keeper Ivan Panjan, who was later voted Most Valuable Player for his team. From the start, Beppler's team also appeared somewhat cowed by the situation and the loud support for their opponents.
On nine minutes Beppler called his first time-out with his team already trailing 1-6, with the defence also struggling to gain traction. But his speech had little effect; and the DHB boys soon gave up two seven metre throws. 17 minutes in and they were already behind 2-10. At 4-14 (23th) the distance between the two most frequent Euros winners in this age classification (two each) reached double digits.
After intermission (8-17) the Germans tried to salvage what honour they could out of the match. Germany didn't score its tenth goal until the 36th minute — at which point the Croats had already reached 23. The defence at least had solved some of their problems and keeper Tim Hottgenroth put in a solid show.
And while the Croats took their foot off the gas somewhat with their lead secure, the deficit reached 15 goals at 10-25. By the final whistle — and following the 15 minute interruption — it had narrowed only to eleven. (dhb.de)
Statistics Croatia - Germany 32-21 (18-7)
Germany: Till Klimpke (HSG Dutenhofen), Tim Hottgenroth (TSV Bayer Dormagen); Tim Matthes (Füchse Berlin/1), Robin Breitenfeldt (SG Flensburg-Handewitt/2), Sebastian Heymann (TSB Heilbronn-Horkheim/4), Niklas Diebel (TSV Hannover-Burgdorf), Lukas Stutzke (TSV Bayer Dormagen/1), Eloy Morante Maldonado (TSV Bayer Dormagen/2), Luis Villgrattner (HBW Balingen-Weilstetten), Lukas Kister (TSV GWD Minden/2), Gregor Remke (EHV Aue/3), Dimitri Ignatow (MT Melsungen), Jakob Knauer (Füchse Berlin/1), Ferris Klotz (THW Kiel), Marcel Timm (VfL Gummersbach), Moritz Strosack (SG Ottenheim/Altenheim/5)
Top scorer Croatia: Strbad (7); Referee: Jerlecki/Jabun (Poland); Suspensions: Germany 10 minutes, Croatia 14 minutes; Seven metre throws: 5/5:6/3
Germany's Main Round Euros Fixtures in Koprivnica:
Germany - Croatia 21-32 (8-17)
Wednesday 17 August, 5 pm: Germany – Iceland
View a Livestream of the match here.