In his usual sober Icelandic manner, national handball coach Alfred Gislason explained his squad for the home European Championships in January, which was full of surprises.

With a mix of young guns and seasoned veterans, the DHB selection wants to take the next step back to the top of the world and write the next winter fairy tale eight years after the European Championship triumph.

“This is our best possible line-up. I am confident that we can field a very good team. I am more optimistic than I was six weeks ago,” said Gislason on Thursday. Preparation begins next Wednesday with a three-day short course in Frankfurt am Main.

Traveled a lot, observed a lot

With goalkeeper Andreas Wolff, left winger Rune Dahmke, backcourt player Kai Häfner and pivot Jannik Kohlbacher, Gislason named four European champions from 2016 to the 19-man squad. “I hope that we can get through the 19 healthy and that we don’t have to replace them,” said Gislason, who has had a lot of travel behind him.

In order to find the right mix of personnel for the European Championship medal mission, the national coach spent weeks wandering around the Bundesliga halls. “Observed a lot and collected extensive databases,” reported the cool Icelander, who can only become a seething volcano on the sidelines.

An explosive debutant

Four U21 world champions around goalkeeper David Späth, the backcourt players Renars Uscins and Nils Lichtlein as well as pivot Justus Fischer, who were already there at the test games in November, particularly caught the coach’s eye on his exploratory tours. “No player is in this squad because he became the U21 World Champion or is young. The four people are there because they played very well in their clubs,” Gislason clarified.

Fischer is the youngest in the DHB team at 20 years old, while right winger Patrick Groetzki is the most experienced at 34 years old and with 171 international matches. Martin Hanne is there for the first time. The 22-year-old right-hander from Bundesliga club TSV Hannover-Burgdorf is a candidate for the left back. “A player who is extremely explosive, very good in man-to-man situations,” said Gislason, explaining his decision.

World record setting at the start

However, veteran goalkeeper Silvio Heinevetter was not nominated, but he is still part of the 35-man squad from which Gislason can use for possible changes during the tournament. Erlangen’s pivot Sebastian Firnhaber is also missing after tearing his cruciate ligament. It was already known that the long-standing top performers Paul Drux, Fabian Wiede, Julius Kühn and Hendrik Pekeler were not there.

How the young players in particular deal with the euphoria in the country will become clear in the opening game against Switzerland on January 10th. A world record crowd of 50,000 fans will frenetically cheer on the DHB team from the stands of the Düsseldorf football arena. Other opponents in the preliminary round are record world champions France and North Macedonia. The first two teams in the group reach the main round.

Dress rehearsal against Portugal

Gislason only made vague comments about the European Championship goals on Thursday. “The coach’s goal is to win the first game,” said the 64-year-old, referring to the thrilling start against the Swiss. The Icelander recently told NDR that reaching the semi-finals would be a dream. Sports director Axel Kromer added: “It makes no sense to set a goal. Every game has to be won. That doesn’t become any more likely if the DHB sets a target.”

The DHB selection will get the finishing touches for the medal mission after the Christmas break in Frankfurt and after New Year’s Eve in Brunsbüttel. Before the opening game against Switzerland, there are two more friendly games against Portugal on January 4th and 6th.