Euro Handball: a debacle and many questions for the French team

The French handball players upset after their elimination from the Euro in the preliminary round, following their defeat against Norway (26-28).
The French handball players upset after their elimination from the Euro in the preliminary round, following their defeat against Norway (26-28). NTB SCANPIX / REUTERS

A blast. Beaten by Norway (26-28), Sunday January 12 in Trondheim (Norway), the French handball team therefore leaves the Euro without honors. We believed the Blues capable of clearing a compromised situation after a first defeat against Portugal (25-28), but even if they showed a much more attacking face (Ludovic Fabregas, author of a huge match, will end up man of the match ), the indigence of their collective game, their numerous losses of ball and the talent of the Norwegian center-half Sander Sagosen (10 goals) will have showered their last hopes.

With this elimination in the preliminary round of an international competition, the French handballers there sign their worst performance since 1978. A few weeks after the rout of the Blue at the Women's World Cup, also eliminated from entry, the humiliation is total. Is French handball in crisis?

Read also Euro handball: France already at the foot of the wall facing the Norwegian mountain

"I don't know if there is a crisis", yet dodged coach Didier Dinart at the microphone of BeIN Sports after the meeting, while Luc Abalo commented, incredulous: "This is the first time since I have played for the French team that we have been eliminated so early, we will see how to digest this. "I don't think we should throw everything out. We have to rework, rebuild individual and collective trust, it's a big job. ”, said the Blues star Nikola Karabatic.

End of the “Experts” reign

The two tricolor selections are going through a period of tumult, which would undoubtedly be less burdensome if the deadlines of the Tokyo Olympic Games (from July 24 to August 9) did not prompt an emergency. Already qualified as European champions, women are not condemned like men to live – admittedly at home – an Olympic qualification tournament in April to win their sesame. The Blues will also have to go through a round-trip barrage in early June to qualify for the 2021 World Cup. We have known more serene Olympic preparation.

But failing in the European Championship does not bode well for a failed Olympic future, since no team managed to secure a title at the Euro and the Games in the same year. On the contrary, France has always managed to recover after disillusionment: after its continental failure in 2012, where France, defending champion, had finished 11e, she won the Olympic gold in London. And after Euro 2016, finished in fifth place, the "Experts" were ready for money in Rio.

This European debacle nevertheless remains that of a team at the end of its reign. The most successful selection in history – nine titles out of fifteen competitions disputed between 2006 and 2017 and the only team to have achieved the Olympic, World and European Championship treble – the "Experts" had accustomed us to the exceptional, even the abnormal. Only Sweden in the 1990s had such a stunning record. But today, "The French team is clearly no longer scary", alerted Valentin Porte in the columns of The Team on the eve of the match against Norway. "Everyone, especially Portugal, thinks they can beat us. And they are right. "

Read also Euro handball: the French fall from the front against Portugal

So it's hard not to see this elimination of the Euro as the end of an era. Several players in their thirties – Luc Abalo, Cédric Sorhaindo, Michaël Guigou – have announced that they will end their adventure in Blue after the Games – if there are Games. Only Nikola Karabatic, 35, maintains the mystery. Alongside this old guard, young players are emerging at the highest international level, such as Ludovic Fabregas or Elohim Prandi. Delicate to manage, the generational transition recalls the passing of witnesses between the “Barjots” and the “Costauds”, between 1996 and 2001, during which only one bronze medal (at the 1997 World Cup) had been obtained.

The Dinart method in question

This failed Euro also calls for a deep questioning of the Dinart method. At the head of the Blues since 2016, the former international took the France team to the world title in 2017. Since then, nothing or almost nothing. The Blues, however strong players among the best in the world at their post, give the impression of stagnating if not regressing with "only" two bronze medals at Euro 2018 and World Cup 2019. "Two big failures", according to Michaël Guigou, in which the French handball players were swept into the semi-finals by Spain and Denmark.

The coach’s message does not seem to be unanimous anymore. In May 2019, Luc Abalo was sidelined from the last two Euro qualifying matches for standing up against Didier Dinart. The dispute, anecdotal at the time, has a very different resonance today. "This is not at all our place when we look at the players who make up the team", sighed Nikola Karabatic after the match. In The Sunday newspaper of January 12, several executives had admitted not having followed all the instructions of the coaches and "Have two or three things to say to them".

Read also Handball: last European campaign for the old guard of the Blues

It is, however, unlikely that Didier Dinart will be removed from his position a few months before the Games. But the Trondheim blast may not have finished producing devastating effects on French handball.