The fate of the Danes is decided in Malmö, not far from their own capital, Copenhagen – even before the game against Russia kicks off on Wednesday evening. Two hours earlier, Iceland is playing Hungary, same place, same hall. If Hungary wins, the Danes practically no longer have to compete. Then they are out at the European Championship, after the preliminary round, as reigning world and Olympic champions. After the French fiasco, it would be the next oversized favorite flop of the tournament.
The Danes will of course prepare for their game as usual, but at least keep an eye on the game of the Hungarians. Only if Iceland, which is already qualified for the main round, wins, will the team of national coach Nicolaj Jacobsen still have the chance to avert the worst scenario by winning against Russia. It may be an unworthy act that the world champion and Olympic champion is dependent on outside help at the end of the preliminary round of an EM. But the handball nation Denmark has problems recognizing its own team.
What is the matter with the Danes, who rattled through the tournament so mechanically at the home World Cup that was held together with Germany twelve months ago and were absolutely deserved world champions?
"People have great expectations, but so do we"
The explanation is not easy. Basically, coach Jacobsen can rely on the same players, who have all been one year older, but that doesn't usually play a big role in handball. The Danes have now missed two games in a row, only against the WM-11. Iceland (30:31), now against the WM-10. Hungary (24:24). Both are good teams, but actually not teams that should be dangerous for the Danes. When the going gets tough, they can usually rely on Mikkel Hansen, the world championship shooter king and most recently the best handball player in the world, who had thrown the balls into the goal in all crucial situations with his hair flowing, nerve-free and relentless. Nothing could happen to the Danes in 2019, Hansen would have boxed them out of everything. Now something has changed.
Once again, Hansen got the ball after a complicated game against Hungary, in which the Danes had been 57 minutes behind, wondering about the clever opponent who realized early on that something was going to work in this game. The Danes gave a lot of free throws and had problems with the offensive coverage of the Hungarians, but at 24:24 the status of the last attack was earned. 15 seconds before the end – a Mikkel Hansen moment. The hall in Malmö was firmly in Danish hands because of its geographical proximity to home, the fans got ready to cheer – but Hansen rejected it. A patch, badly placed, no danger for the Hungarian goalkeeper Roland Mikler, who parried with the right lower leg. Hansen not only rejected the last ball, he had only scored three goals in eight attempts – a terrifying rate for him.
"People have high expectations, but so do we," said goalkeeper Jannick Green in a statement explaining the shaky European Championship appearances. The team tried to get the defeat against Iceland out of their heads. With every Hungarian goal it was more difficult, in the end his team would have been even lucky – because the Hungarians had been the better team throughout the game: "It is disappointing, there is so much more to us," said Green , It was striking how the Hungarians lost respect from minute to minute. "If someone had told me before the game that we could make a draw against the world champion, I would have agreed," said back player Zsolt Balogh, "now I'm disappointed. We could have won."
After all: parts of the team still have the attitude of a world champion. "We play so slowly that you almost fall asleep," criticized backfield player Mads Mensah, "so you don't win handball games". That his team has to hope for outside help, coach Jacobsen goes against the grain, but what should he do? Contrite he confesses: "We have to hope for our Icelandic friends."
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