Handball: the French men take 4th place after some hard-fought matches

Monday, 31 january 2022

At the end of a European Championship disturbed by Covid-19, the French men’s handball team achieved a very honorable 4th place after a series of unforgettable matches.

An intense competition

What determines the roll of a dice? A tiny detail: the sheer talent of the Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Palicka who managed to block Ludovic Fabregas’ shot in the closing seconds of the semi-final against Sweden that – had the goal been scored – would have taken the French team to extra time… or it could have been another stunning comeback like the one in the group stage against Denmark when, after trailing by 5 goals with only 12 minutes left to play, Les Bleus managed to turn the tide in what ought to have been an unwinnable match or, yet again, in their game against Sweden, and the relatively weak French defense, Les Bleus managed a last-minute rally when it was thought the match was lost.

Unfortunately, the French men failed to qualify for the final and were drawn against their old rivals, the Danes, for the third-place playoff, an opportunity for the French team to win their 22nd medal in a major championship. But it was the Danes – the favorites to win the competition – who took 3rd place on the podium (35-32). As so often in this tournament, the match was an exciting handball moment with the French team doing their utmost and pushing the Danes into extra time.

An unprecedented situation

This 4th place, however, shouldn’t be thought of as a failure! Historically, the competition following an Olympic victory always represents an immense challenge for the titleholder, irrespective of their nationality. It may be an unconscious reaction but the players always seem less passionate about achieving this new objective. It is frequently necessary for the coach – and this was true in the case of the French team – to renew the membership of his squad. This time, Guillaume Gille had to manage absences caused by the Covid pandemic in addition to the fact that certain players had ended their sporting careers or were out because of injuries. This was a unique management experience that will undoubtedly help him hone that fundamental quality required of a sports coach: adaptability. The situation was complicated even further by the fact that he had caught the virus himself and had to ‘coach’ three games remotely with his assistant, Erick Mathé, standing in for him physically.  He launched the careers of several young players of the celebrated 1996/97 generation, some of whom, like Aymeric Minne, demonstrated that the future of the French team was guaranteed. And, above all, this team has achieved performances that will count for future competitions, like that famous group match against Denmark: the older players are used to those intense matches where it’s the strength of the team’s spirit that enables it to rise above adversity; it will also be a useful experience for the younger players. Thus, during this Euro competition, the French team, despite being disrupted and with its membership renewed, has kept its morale that is also one of its principal qualities at the international level. This is certainly a major asset for the future and consequently for Paris 2024, the No.1 objective!