Denmark's Jacobsen on the tactics of making history

FEATURE: As group E prepare to throw off, Denmark coach Nikolaj Jacobsen examines his side’s role as EHF EURO 2020 favourites in light of the exceptional years behind them

Can coach Nikolaj Jacobsen lead Denmark to more international success? © Uros Hocevar / kolektiff

Denmark have the chance to join the most elite of groups at the Men’s EHF EURO 2020 – if they take the trophy, the world and Olympic champions will become the current holders of all three major international titles. In men’s handball, only France have accomplished that feat before.

Although there is a long way to go before reaching that historic milestone, with group E in Malmö set to begin on Saturday, Denmark coach Nikolaj Jacobsen agrees it is difficult to cast off his side’s role as one of the favourites to top the podium on January 26.

“We know that we are one of the teams who are the favourites in this tournament, we know that. That’s nothing new for us,” says Jacobsen. “It’s like that in every tournament we play, that we are one of the favourite teams, so we are going into this tournament as everyone else. At first we are trying to reach the semi-finals and then we look further.”

“The last tournament was maybe once in a lifetime”

Last January, Denmark won their first world title in front of the home crowd in Herning, after a perfect campaign saw only victories on the path to the trophy, including decisive wins in the medal round.

Winning a title takes more than skill and form on court, but also relies on an ability to handle all the factors encompassed in a championship well. So what did Jacobsen learn from Denmark’s Men’s IHF World Championship 2019 experience?

“Try to keep a good mood. Try to have a good balance in the preparation – to train and also have some time off and then of course in the tournament, to prepare well for our opponents and trying to tactically be a little better,” says the 48-year-old coach.

“We know we have some of the best players in the world in key positions, so of course we know if we are playing well, the other team has to be very good if they want to beat us. But we also know that the last tournament was maybe once in a lifetime – it’s not easy to reach that level every time. I also think that less can do it.”

Grateful to be on almost-home turf in Malmö

Along with Denmark’s performance at the home world championship, the atmosphere was memorable. As they played in front of sold-out stadiums of red-dressed supporters every step of the way, the Scandinavian side were certainly lifted to an even higher level.

Through Jacobsen’s interaction with the crowds, it was clear he did not underestimate the value of that support. Ultimately, the campaign proved a perfect example of how home advantage can be leveraged to inspire the very best performances from a team.

At the EHF EURO, Denmark are not playing at home – but very close to it. Malmö is a mere 30-minute drive from the outskirts of Copenhagen, and Denmark are often treated to an atmosphere akin to playing on their own court when in Sweden’s south.

“If you have a home crowd and spectators who are cheering for you and everything, that gives 5 to 10 per cent energy, and everybody can use that, so for us it’s very important that we are playing in Malmö. We’re grateful for that,” says Jacobsen.

“We know that there will be a lot of Danish spectators and hopefully we can play some good handball and give them some good matches.”

Jacobsen vs Gudmundsson: Who will use the advantage of familiarity better?

Denmark’s first match at the EHF EURO 2020 has some interesting history intermingled into the on-court battle. Iceland are led by Gudmundur Gudmundsson, who was coach for Denmark when they won their first Olympic gold medal in men’s handball in 2016.

Not only did Jacobsen succeed Gudmundsson as head coach for Denmark, but he also followed the Icelandic mastermind as coach for Rhein-Neckar Löwen, with whom he became the first Danish coach to win the German Bundesliga.

“Of course, he knows the team [Denmark] better than most coaches at this European championship,” says Jacobsen. “We also know his system and know what he wants to do in defence especially, so of course, both sides have an advantage. We have to see tomorrow who uses that better.”

written by Courtney Gahan / jh