The story of Polish men’s handball is closely connected to Germany, as Poland was the fate and the stumble stone for the Germans several times in recent years. It all began with the 2007 World Championship in Germany when the Poles were the only team to beat the host – in the preliminary round. Both sides faced off again in the final where Germany claimed their third World title.
But from that match on the pendulum changed its direction. At the 2009 World Championship in Croatia a last second goal by Artur Siodmiak to beat Norway in the final main round match opened the gate for the Polish side for their second straight semi, while the Germans would have been through in case of a draw. In contrast to 2007 Poland missed the final, beaten by Croatia but then took the bronze medal by beating Denmark.
At the 2012 European championship in Serbia a Polish win in the direct duel – again the final main round match – ended all German hopes to qualify for the Olympic qualification tournaments. And in the qualification for the 2015 World Championship in Qatar both neighbours squared off again, with Poland beating the Germans twice by 25:24 and 29:28.
Those defeats were even harder for the Germans, as in the meantime (since missing the 2012 Olympic Games) a German, Michael Biegler, was the Polish head coach. Aside being assistant coach for the national team the IHF lecturer had coached several German clubs before.
But the story had a happy end for Germany, as the IHF awarded them a wild card for Doha. Prior to July’s draw event everybody on both sides was joking that Poland and Germany would meet again in Doha – and they will. Both were drawn into preliminary round group D and both will even have their opening match in Doha.
Polish hopes for Qatar are high, as they are on a mission to promote their “home event”, the 2016 European Championship. “Everything is set to play a highly successful European championship,” said Biegler. “But for attracting as many fans as possible we need a good result in Doha, which also would bring us closer to the Olympic Games in Rio.”
Besides Germany, his team will face Russia, two times European champions and twice World Championship silver medallists Denmark, Pan-American champions Argentina and Bahrain.
“We are in a very attractive and highly balanced group,” said Jerzy Eliasz, Vice-President of the Polish Handball Federation. “We face a strong Asian team, the Pan-American champions and a really strong European trio. Maybe it is a historical sign that we face Germany again after we had beaten them in the World Championship play-offs. And it will be interesting to see how the Danish team develops under their new coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson. On paper Denmark is the favourite, but we will see what our team can manage.”
Polish handball is not only boosted by the strong national team, but also by the success of Vive Tauron Kielce, the first club from Poland to qualify for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne in 2013. And a huge number of Kielce players are in Biegler’s squad, who succeeded former Kielce coach Bogdan Wenta in 2012.
Biegler put fresh blood on his team, with a majority of the players 30 years old or older.
Those talents are guided by experienced stars like the Lijewski brothers Marcin and Krzysztof, playmaker Grzegorz Tkaczyk and the Jurecki brothers Michal and Bartosz.
Polish tactics are built upon highly efficient back court shooters and the powerful line player Bartosz Jurecki. In 2010 they were very close to their first EHF EURO medal, but lost the semi against Croatia and then the bronze final against Iceland.
“We have three very strong European teams in our group, with many great players in their line-ups,” Jurecki said. “I expect three very tough matches, it wouldn’t be a surprise for me if the final results will be decided in the last minutes or even seconds. But also we must be aware of Bahrain and Argentina. But I hope to have a great tournament, without any injuries and of course with a happy end for the Polish team!”
He also believes that the composition of the team can be their major strength. “We have a very interesting mix of experience and youth at the moment. Our coach is working on putting all the pieces of this puzzle together. I think we have lots of potential, even to fight with the best teams in the world at the moment, but the main goal remains the same – to show a great performance at the EHF Euro 2016 in our country.”
Poland – Germany will broadcasted live on TVP2 and TVP Sport from 17:00 on 16.01.2015.
World championship campaigns: 1958: 5., 1974: 4., 1978: 6., 1982: BRONZE, 1986: 14., 1990: 11., 2003: 10., 2007: SILVER 2009: BRONZE, 2011: 8., 2013: 9.
Olympic campaigns: 1972: 10., 1976: BRONZE, 1980: 7., 2008: 5.
European championship campaigns: 1994: , 1996: , 1998: , 2000: , 2002: 15., 2004: 16., 2006: 10., 2008: 7., 2010: 4., 2012: 9., 2014: 6.
Qualification for Qatar: winner of the play-off matches against Germany (25:24, 29:28)
Coach: Michael Biegler
Key players: Slawomir Szmal, Krzysztof Lijewski