French handball players took care of their debut for their last major international competition before the Paris Olympic Games. In the Merkur Spiel-Arena in Düsseldorf, Germany, on Wednesday January 10, they largely dominated North Macedonia in the opening of the European Championship. After a sluggish start to the match, the Tricolores irresistibly broke away to finish the match with a ten-goal lead: 39-29.

The evening also allowed coach Guillaume Gille to carry out a vast squad review. In goal, Rémi Desbonnet and Charles Bolzinger shone in the absence of Vincent Gérard, the number one goalkeeper of the selection.

“It’s a very nice victory,” rejoiced winger Hugo Descat, best player of the match, speaking to BeIN Sports. It was important to win because the first matches in a major competition are always delicate (…). It was incredible to play in such a stadium. »

In fact, one of the main interests of this first duel lay in the setting of the meeting: the Merkur Spiel-Arena. Not only because it is the first time that Germany, the cradle of handball, is organizing the Euro, but above all because the country saw the big picture by organizing the opening match in a venue traditionally reserved for football. .

This Wednesday, the attendance record for a handball match was broken: around 53,000 spectators. The previous one dated from 2014, when 44,189 people gathered in the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt for a poster of the Bundesliga, the national championship. The approximately 28,000 spectators at the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, during the 2017 World Cup, until then an international benchmark, now pale in comparison. Especially since the record might not hold for long, as the host country’s team prepares to face Switzerland, a little later in the evening, in the same stadium in Düsseldorf.

Hesitant beginnings

France started as a clear favorite against North Macedonia, an opponent who had never beaten it in three confrontations. But the Blues took this match seriously.

After a good start, the French machine stalled. A few errors of concentration, hesitations in defense, failures in long-range shots from Dika Mem and Nedim Remili and, above all, a brilliant performance from the Macedonian goalkeeper, the veteran Nikola Mitrevski (38), allowed the Rouge et Or to go ahead by the score after a quarter of an hour of play (8-10).

After a time out requested by Guillaume Gille, the Blues put their game in order. Thanks to wingers Valentin Porte and Hugo Descat, they quickly got back on track (10-10, in the 17th minute). Then they broke away.

The entry of Karl Konan helped solidify the blue defense. The arrivals on the floor of Elohim Prandi, the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) pyrotechnician, then Melvyn Richardson, the Barcelona full-back, also helped to energize the French attack. A kung-fu – acrobatic shot suspended in the opposing area after a lobbed pass – from the first to the second allowed France to return to the locker room with a four-goal lead (17-13).

Roster review

In the second half, Guillaume Gille continued to rotate his squad by calling on pivot Nicolas Tournat and wingers Benoît Kounkoud and Dylan Nahi. In the cages, Rémi Desbonnet gave way to the great Charles Bolzinger (1.98 meters), his teammate from Montpellier. The latter quickly stood out by stopping a 7-meter throw in full extension in the 38th minute.

It was this wealth of the French bench that made the difference. Physically worn out, the Macedonians gradually lowered their flag. In the 42nd minute, an opportunistic goal from Nikola Karabatic allowed the Blues to take a seven-point lead (25-18). There was no longer any question of suspense in this part. The smiles of the substitutes on the bench attested to this. Only new saves from the relentless Nikola Mitrevsk allowed the Balkan team not to completely sink.

Ten minutes from time, Guillaume Gille launched veteran Kentin Mahé (32). The regional player grew up in Dormagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, where his father Pascal, a member of the “Barjots” – the first to win a world title for France in a team sport in 1995 – was player, then coach.

Author of a good entry, the center half of Veszprem (Hungary) confirmed that he remains a credible replacement for Nedim Remili as playmaker. At the buzzer, a last goal from Melvyn Richardson in empty Macedonian cages allowed up to the French to conclude this meeting in the most beautiful way.

This Wednesday, France delivered a solid performance against probably the weakest team in its group. But the adversity risks being more consistent, Sunday January 14, in Berlin, against Switzerland. Then, above all, Tuesday January 16, against Germany.