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Jacob Sweetman: Brand new second-hand(ball)

As the football world debates whether to have a World Cup in the winter, an example of how it works is happening at the moment. The Handball World Cup is currently taking place in Sweden, and this is serious sporting business.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: Brand new second-hand(ball)
Photo by Armin Kuebelbeck (Wikimedia CC)

As the football world debates whether to have a World Cup in the winter, an example of how it works is happening at the moment. And not because a sport’s governing body has sold itself down the river for a pot of gas and oil money to some billionaires in a country the size of Wales with the population of Birmingham.

As you may know the Handball World Cup is currently taking place in Sweden, mid-season in the Bundesliga. But then this is serious sporting business. The European leagues earn a lot of money, but  don’t bare comparison with their footballing equivalents. The international game is still where it’s at.

But the only English who know about it are the few Ipswich Town or Arsenal fans dotted around, who found that the first half of the teams’ Carling Cup semifinal (first leg) was not shown as promised on Sport1 because the Germany game had gone into extra time. The Ipswich Town forum was filled with irate expats wondering what the hell this sport even was. Needless to say Germany is ranked number one in the world.

And they made it through to the second group stage, and a heroic performance from Berlin’s own goalkeeper, Silvio Heinevetter, ensured a win against the Olympic silver medalists Iceland. In the context of a bad tournament for Germany this was a great result and it meant that they were on course to get the seventh position they needed to ensure that they were into the qualification rounds for the London Olympic finals in 2012. But they fucked it. Germany lost to Hungary and then to Norway, who hadn’t won a game yet in the round.

The sportsdesk has been to the Berlin Füchse, but was confused by the pace and the erraticness of the game. The second one looked down to write something, and then something else had happened.

Unfortunately the EXBERLINER budget didn‘t stretch to me borrowing the magazine’s helicopter this week, so I had to watch the fantastic Hungary match in a boozer. A grotty boozer where the only two people who understood the game were the barmaid, who I think was cheering out of a misplaced sense of national pride as opposed to a genuine love of the game, and an old miserable guy who could see which way the wind was blowing even though Germany were more than holding their own.

See, the game is a lot easier to understand from the higher angle of TV cameras – the action focused for you, as opposed dealing with the distractions of a sold out Max Schmeling Halle. Germany started off relentlessly, whilst Hungary were content to wait, and wait, block the ball, recover it, break to the other end and score. But their defensiveness cost them after a while. A time out, which involved the great sight of walrus-mustached Germany National manager, Heiner Brand, shouting at his players (all of this visible and audible on the pitch side cameras), with what can only be described as “the standard get at them team talk”. Quicker up top, tighter at the back, blah blah blah. His ‘tache bristled with the momentum of the words.

He kept repeating it to himself almost like a mantra as he paced the touchline. “Keep it up, movement, movement, quicker up top”.

He changed tack through his time-outs. The second one was now more pleading. It was 20 minutes in against Hungary and they still led. He was pleading now, the players seeming less interested this time around, but the impression was that he was doing this for the cameras. Not for the team, but to get that ‘tache on the telly.

Silvio Heinevetter‘s girlfriend may be more famous, but this bloke is a star. I wonder about the ‘keepers, and the similarity to their footballing counterparts. Does the ego have to be as rampant, or conversely can they be so fragile?

Eduardo Galeno talked about them when he said: “where they stand the grass never grows.” He was talking about the loneliness at the back. The responsibility to carry if he makes a single mistake. Berlin’s young star Heinevetter had his moment, Germany were down and he came on for a single penalty, didn’t save it and was back on the bench again immediately, replaced by Johannes Bitter who was excellent all night.

That was it. He could have been the hero, but now all he has is a famous and beautiful older girlfriend and a fat new contract at the club that sit second in the Bundesliga.

Actually, scrub that. I think Silvio will be alright, he just definitely won’t be at the Olympics in 2012.