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  • Jacob Sweetman: Heinevetter’s Spanish flu


Jacob Sweetman: Heinevetter’s Spanish flu

Germany lost last night in the quarter-final of the Handball World Championship. That it was against Spain comes too close to the experience of the national side's recent travails, but there are other comparisons too.

In the likelihood that there is an infinite amount of universes, with an infinite number of differences between them, there is somewhere (though probably, quite a long way away) a version of me tapping away at a cheap computer, with a cuttlefish at my feet whining for more food, writing about how the Germans always play up to their stereotypes: how the S-Bahn never breaks in the snow and they always finish building their airports on time, that sort of thing. It is a long way away though, and maybe it’s time that the standards that we hold the Germans to were readdressed slightly.

They have been confounding sporting expectations for a while now, not in the ruthless way that the football team qualify for the major tournaments, but in the way they have recently bewitched the world with a young, partially-handsome team playing a brand of flowing and fast football that makes England really look like the Luddites that they are. After years of stodgy dominance this was not expected of them, but then after we all got so overexcited about the exciting new German team, they go and collapse against a much more disciplined, technically better Spain. Just when you thought you had them worked out…

There has been a change in the handball side too. Germany won the World Championship in 2007, but by the time the next one had got old and flabby, they needed reinvigorating. Now they have become, like the national football team, the anti-Germany. Their win over the weekend against the winners of the last two tournaments, France, was an explosive performance of pace and flare, but also one of balls of steel. They won by two points in the end to face the next best team in the tournament. Last night Germany had to play Spain in the semi-final. You know Spain, the land of bumbling waiters, lazy builders and sporting potential that remains mostly untapped.

Sorry, wrong universe again. Spanish sport has become, well, a little German over time. Had Roger Federer not been relentlessly accruing titles then Rafael Nadal could well have been seen as the greatest tennis player of all time by now. And the less said about the football team as possible here. Germany have been knocked out of their last two major tournaments by the side whose patience knows no bounds and whose technical ability is better than anyone else in the world game.

Many had tipped the Spanish to win the Handball World Championship already, as the home nation and the best developing side. Last night Germany knew they had to force the pace, to impose themselves on the Spanish. Led by Oliver Roggisch they tore at them, going toe to toe on points, but the Spanish just had too much for the young pretenders.

The German ‘keeper Silvio Heinevetter, has been around for what feels like ages, but it is he who in many ways represents the new breed of German handball player: he’s a bit cocky, a bit flash, with his beautiful older TV star girlfriend Simone Thomalla, but whilst all the time with a look in his eye (augmented by the shaggy locks running all over the place) that says he didn’t sleep last night because he set the bed on fire again. He is the star of the Berlin Füchse, and last night he played excellently. But it wasn’t enough. The Spanish were relentless, and although the Germans kept going, they started to miss their chances (see what I mean about confounding stereotypes?). One throw onto the post from came straight from a remarkable Heinevetter double save, before he launched the ball the length of the pitch. It was the turning point.

With them needing four points in the last 90 seconds Heinevetter was taken off, sacrificed for an attacking player, and sod the ramifications. It was gauche, it was dangerous. Unfortunately it also didn’t work.

The press are gushing over the pride they feel in what this young side have achieved in this World Championship. To lose to the Spanish in Zaragossa is no scandal, and to have beaten the French is wonderful. But they need to push on and keep improving. Otherwise they’ll just end up as stereotypical German losers. Like the football team. I can’t remember which universe we are in any more.