Ahead of the Men’s EHF EURO 2016 in Poland things were not looking good for Germany. Captain Uwe Gensheimer, line player Patrick Wiencek, right wing Patrick Groetzki and playmaker Paul Drux – all of them with VELUX EHF Champions League experience and significant roles in the team – were ruled out by long-term injuries.
And it got even worse, when in the second main round match against Russia back-court stars Steffen Weinhold and Christian Dissinger limped off the court and were out for the rest of the tournament.
Although he had already given young guns such as left wing Rune Dahmke, defence boss Finn Lemke and line player Jannik Kohlbacher a chance to step in, coach Dagur Sigurdsson now needed to find players at home who were ready to fill in the gaps.
When Julius Kühn and Kai Häfner arrived at the team hotel in Wroclaw, hopes were low that they could immediately make a difference in the crucial final main round match against Denmark. Both needed this match to adapt to the team dynamics, but became instant heroes in the semi-final when they scored five goals each to eliminate Norway after extra-time.
Häfner’s Cinderella story became more spectacular after he scored seven goals in the final against Spain to become the match’s top scorer.
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Now, with the EHF EURO 2020 close to start, Germany are again suffering from huge injury problems. Three right backs – Steffen Weinhold, Fabian Wiede and Franz Semper – and three playmakers – Martin Strobel, Tim Suton and Simon Ernst – will miss the tournament due to injuries.
Coach Christian Prokop was forced to introduce debutants Patrick Zieker and David Schmidt at short notice. The 26-year-olds both play for TVB 1898 Stuttgart, with Zieker on the left wing and Schmidt as right back.
The pair played their very first international match on Saturday against Iceland, followed by the second one on Monday against Austria.
But Germany’s major hopes are resting on Kühn’s giant shoulders. The 198cm-tall left back was out for 11 months after tearing his Achilles tendon in November 2018, meaning he missed the Men’s IHF World Championship 2019 on home ground. The Melsungen player made his national team comeback in October last year.
“Obviously, it looks the same as in 2016, but things have changed. After a period without major success, including missing the EHF EURO 2014, Germany arrived as something like underdogs at Poland. Now, after winning gold in 2016 and our fourth place at the World Championship 2019 our opponents will take us much more seriously and will not underestimate us,” says Kühn.
Kühn, Häfner and Kohlbacher are now regulars in the national team, still playing alongside fellow 2016 alumni Andreas Wolff, Tobias Reichmann and Hendrik Pekeler. These six are the only members of the victorious 2016 squad who will be back on court in 2020.
“We have to cope with this situation, but the injury of Fabian Wiede, who was planned for the centre and the right back position, is a setback,” says coach Prokop.
“In general, we do not have a superstar like Nikola Karabatic, Mikkel Hansen or Sander Sagosen in our squad, so we can only be successful if we work as a team. But we will definitely lack experience," Prokop adds.
However, German confidence is buoyed by the appearance of Gensheimer and Wiencek, in contrast to 2016. Together with goalkeeper Wolff, they form the backbone of the team.
With a draw in the easier half of the competition, avoiding early clashes with Denmark, France, Norway and Sweden, German the hopes are high of reaching the semi-finals.
“And if we make it to Stockholm, anything can happen,” Kühn says, his historic performance in Poland still in mind.
Don’t rule the Germans out.