The French men’s handball team has not yet won its ticket for the second phase of the European Championship. Against all expectations, the Blues conceded a draw (26-26), Sunday January 14 in Berlin, against Switzerland, during the second day of the so-called “preliminary” phase. Large winners over North Macedonia (39-29) four days earlier, Guillaume Gille’s men delivered a pale copy, worrying to say the least 48 hours before an already decisive match: the top of the group Facing Germany, the organizing country.

Feverish in defense, timid in attack, incapable of deploying the fast play that makes them unique, the reigning Olympic champions have never managed to consolidate a sufficient gap against their opponents, reinvigorated after their heavy defeat against the same Germany ( 27-14) Wednesday January 10 in Düsseldorf.

For sixty minutes, the Blues were doubly punished. First by the elasticity of goalkeeper Nikola Portner, author of 10 saves on 34 shots (29.41%). Then by the mastery, in attack, of center-half and veteran Andy Schmid (40 years old), who multiplied the passes over the French defense in order to serve his two pivots, in particular Lukas Laube, author of 9 goals (out of 10 shots). The French never managed to take a solid lead, except for a few minutes with a gap of 3 goals, then stealthily 4 goals. In a tense yo-yo game, the Swiss handball players stuck to the mark each time.

A shock against Germany on Tuesday

The scenario could have turned sour for the Blues without the power of Dika Mem’s extended shots (9 goals) or the connection rediscovered between Nedim Remili and Ludovic Fabregas. Scorer six times from six attempts, the latter surpassed the 300 goal mark for the French team on Sunday – in 124 caps. Only one real satisfaction deserves to be highlighted in the French camp: the performance of replacement goalkeeper Samir Bellahcene, who repelled 11 out of 24 shots (45.83%) for his first steps in a major international competition, in the absence of the usual captain Vincent Gérard.

The difficulty in making placed attacks, the inability to project forward with a minimum of passes, the obvious deficiencies in playing without the ball would seem less worrying if the “hardest” part did not await the Blues. Germany first, in front of its audience, Tuesday January 16. Before a potential second round (four matches), prelude to the last four.

Guillaume Gille politely noted “somewhat average individual performances” at the microphone of BeinSports after the meeting. “The attack remains open with the need to find more impact,” added the Blues coach. Our DNA is to run, to set fire to the great outdoors. However, in the second half, we remained too conservative” – understand: not mobile enough, nor fluid in transmissions. A discipline based on percussion and speed, handball has difficulty playing in slow motion.

The French team can still finish first in their group, provided they beat Germany. It can also fail in third place, non-qualifying, in the event of a heavy defeat against the Mannschaft and a large victory for the Swiss against North Macedonia – everything would then be decided on goal difference. The triple European champions (2006, 2010, 2014) would then be caught up again by this statistic according to which they have never won the Euro in the same year that the Olympic Games are organized.