EM | DHB team in the stranglehold of the virus

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A prominent quintet around 2007 world champion Johannes Bitter strengthens the corona-plagued German handball players at the European Championship – but further cases are by no means ruled out.

Johannes Bitter didn’t hesitate for a second. “If you say that you are ready in an emergency and the national coach calls, then you have to keep your word,” said the 2007 world champion on his lightning comeback in the jersey of the German handball team. But Bitter’s arrival in the German team quarters in Bratislava was overshadowed by the severe corona turbulence.

“Of course you don’t expect it to get that bad,” Bitter told the Hamburger Morgenpost. The seven corona cases in the German team within 48 hours made the spectacular resignation of the veteran necessary in the first place. Because the personal emergency broke out in the goal after Andreas Wolff’s infection, Bitter (170 international matches) arrived at the crack of dawn on Tuesday – and thus also took a personal risk.

Because after the Corona outbreak on Monday evening, the team of national coach Alfred Gislason is in the stranglehold of the virus at the European Championships, further positive findings seem to be programmed. “We cannot rule out that there will be further cases,” said DHB sports director Axel Kromer to the SID on Tuesday in the Slovakian capital. In view of the rampant, highly contagious omicron variant, we know “that it can also get us at any time”.

“Worst case scenario” has happened

Just like on Monday evening, when the shock news of the positive findings in Wolff, backcourt player Kai Häfner, right winger Timo Kastening, left winger Lukas Mertens and playmaker Luca Witzke arrived in the German EM quarter. Hendrik Wagner and Julius Kühn had previously been infected with the virus.

Former national team captain Uwe Gensheimer called the situation a “worst case scenario,” he said at DHB Spotlight. Ex-world champion Christian Schwarzer explained in the Spox interview that the tournament was moving “in the direction of farce”. It would be “bitter and bad for our sport if the team with the fewest corona cases were to become European champions.”

At least four other players could be nominated in addition to Bitter. “It came as a complete surprise to me,” said Bitter, who only became a father two weeks ago. “Insanely much” he has not trained handball in the last few days, added the 39-year-old. The goalkeeper had actually declared his career in the national team to be over after the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but he wanted to “help the team in this difficult situation and will do my best”.

The last preliminary round game against Poland was completely pushed into the background in view of the uncertainty about a possibly even larger outbreak in the German camp. As an immediate measure, the German team management in Bratislava decided on even stricter contact restrictions. From now on, the remaining eleven players plus the five latecomers have to spend every free minute in their single rooms. “None of this is nice, but it is necessary,” said Kromer.

The five subsequent nominations had also become necessary late Monday evening. In addition to Bitter from Hamburg, left winger Rune Dahmke (THW Kiel), pivot Sebastian Firnhaber (HC Erlangen) and Berlin backcourt players Paul Drux and Fabian Wiede traveled to Slovakia on Tuesday. Together, the quintet, including two European champions from 2016, has accumulated experience from almost 400 international matches.

Kromer was “enthusiastic about the helpfulness of the clubs”. “It’s amazing that even those who had canceled for understandable reasons didn’t hesitate for a second to play for our national team in this difficult situation.”

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