Main Round - Group I: France and Germany in top spot after day one
The IHF Men’s World Championship title-holders France impressed against the European champions in the opening match of the Main Round – Group I in Cologne and claimed a deserved 33:30 victory.
In front of nearly 20,000 fans in an atmospheric LANXESS arena in Cologne, co-hosts Germany dispatched Iceland in a calm and measured performance to put them up to five points and give themselves a fighting chance to progress through to the semi-finals in Hamburg.
France vs Spain 33:30 (17:15)
Didier Dinart’s world championship title-holders France continue to improve at Germany/Denmark 2019 as, in front of 18,121 spectators in the LANXESS arena Cologne, they led the European champions for nearly all 60 minutes, except once, when the best player of the match, Spain’s Ferran Sola Sala brought the scores level at 18:18 (34th minute).
This was the only time Jordi Ribera’s team were in the game – a stark turnaround from a year ago when his side beat France 27:23 in the semi-final of the 2018 Men’s EHF EURO.
“It was a big fight tonight against a good opponent exactly as last year in the semi-final,” said Dinart after the match. “I feel that my players are focused and when Spain came back to tie, we managed to get back and keep in the lead.”
Michael Guigou eased any nerves for France within the first four minutes, putting his side 2:0 up and helping them move to a five-goal lead in with five minutes remaining of the half (17:12), and if it had not been for an emphatic shooting display from Sole Sala, with nine goals in the first 30 minutes, then Spain could have been much further behind, but with France coasting, Dinart’s team took their foot off the gas a little and an unanswered double from Sole Sala and one from Alex Dujshebaev saw the score much closer at the break (17:15)
Spain could also thank Arpad Sterbik, replaced overnight and arriving in Cologne this morning, who ended with 11 saves, and he watched his side bring it even for the first time since the opening whistle, but that was to be it as 6:1 run from the French took them five-clear again.
With recent replacements Nikola Karabatic and Melvyn Richardson making themselves count in the French side, the other teams at Germany/Denmark should take notice as ‘Les Bleus’ look to conquer the world again.
“France played a complete game for the whole 60 minutes with variants in their offence, which made it difficult for us to defend effectively,” said Ribera after the match. “We played a lot of variants in our defence too, but the big point for France was at the end of the first half when they scored four goals in a row.
“In the second half, we started to turn the game, helped by our goalkeeper, and when it went to 18:18 we could feel the chance to win, but we did not take it.”
hummel Best Player of the Match: Ferran Sole Sala (ESP)
Germany vs Iceland 24:19 (14:10)
Goalkeeper Andreas Wolff provided his one-man mobile wall to his national side Germany tonight, stopping Iceland just enough to ensure his side sealed a further two points in their quest to progress to the last four of their home tournament.
While the home side found themselves 6:5 down in the 13th minute, thanks to another strong performance from Iceland captain, and former Bundesliga icon Aron Palmarsson, they fought back strongly, and went into at the half-time break 14:10 up after Palmarsson left the court after just 21 minutes.
At half-time the arena was full of a different kind of emotion as legendary German player Joachim Deckarm, who won the 1978 world championship with West Germany, was serenaded on court by the 19,250 fans inside with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in recognition of his 65th birthday – complete with mobile phone lights providing a poignant backdrop for the former player.
“We played in a very good atmosphere here in Cologne,” said German coach Christian Prokop. “Our defence was very good – hard but fair – and in attack we were moveable and agile with high discipline.”
“This was a very big challenge for us today,” said Iceland coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson. “I was happy with how we played in the first half in defence and attack, but later in the first half and in the game, we made mistakes, trying passes to the line which were not very good, and they scored on the counter-attack.
“It was very tough for us to play in attack without Aron Palmarsson in the second half and we really missed him, but today we lost to a better team and our young team must learn from this.”
Steffen Fath top-scored for Germany with six goals, to take the best player award, while Arnor Thor Gunnarsson scored the same for Iceland.
hummel Best Player of the Match: Steffen Fath (GER)