With stony faces and tears in their eyes, Germany’s handball players crept off the floor after their dream of their first World Cup medal in 16 years was brutally shattered. After a desolate performance at times at 20:27 (6:16) in the quarter-finals against Sweden, the DHB selection had to bury its hopes of winning its first World Cup medal since bronze in 2007.

“This is a difficult moment. I’m very disappointed because we didn’t put what we could on the record,” said national coach Markus Gaugisch. Co-captain Emily Bölk, who shed tears of disappointment in the mixed zone, summed up her emotional state: “It hurts a lot.”

The DHB selection continues on Friday with the first placement game against the Czech Republic, Sweden will meet Olympic champions France in the semifinals. “We really wanted to get to the semi-finals and are sad that we didn’t make it. We’ve played a top tournament up to this point. So it’s a shame,” said Gaugisch.

History repeats itself

The semi-final curse that has existed since 2007 continues. Seventh place three times and eighth place once were the results of previous major tournaments in which the team missed the semi-finals. Now the events in Herning repeated themselves. “I have to process it first. We didn’t show the performance we had all hoped for. Now we have to work our way out of it,” said DHB sports director Axel Kromer.

In front of around 6,000 spectators, co-captain Alina Grijseels, Amelie Berger and Viola Leuchter were the best throwers in the German team with four goals each, which delivered its weakest performance of the tournament. “We wanted to play a much better game and not be eliminated in this way. This is a bitter experience and a setback for us,” said Grijseels.

After previously convincing World Cup appearances, the DHB had great chances. In recent years, the German handball players have rarely presented themselves as confident and mature as they have been in the previous tournament. With a win against the fourth-placed team at the Olympics, Bölk and Co. wanted to finally close the gap to the top four nations.

First half as a sticking point

But the team seemed different. Completely unsettled and without a discernible plan, the DHB selection was given a lesson by the three-crown team. “In the first half we remained far below our potential. Sweden won all the duels, both offensively and defensively. As a result, the deficit at the break was very high,” analyzed the national coach.

A missed seven-meter penalty, countless bad passes and strong saves from the Swedish goalkeeper characterized what was, from a German perspective, a catastrophic initial phase. After nine minutes, Sweden, who gratefully accepted every German gift, led 4-0. Gaugisch reacted with a time-out and called for “attacks through the gap”.

But the 49-year-old’s heated speech fizzled out. The DHB team lost almost every one-on-one duel against aggressive Swedes and there was far too little movement in the attacking game. The small German fan block saw a class difference.

The German seven now wanted to force the first goal and acted far too hastily in their shots. It took 14 minutes for co-captain Emily Bölk to save the game (1:7). But there wasn’t a jolt through the team afterwards. Sweden appeared to be optimally prepared and also had the perfect answer to a German system change to two circle runners.

No catch-up in the second half

After the break, the Swedes also acted incorrectly, but the compact defense and the outstanding goalkeeper Johanna Bundsen made up for the mistakes in the offensive game. The fact that there was still no two-minute penalty after 45 minutes also spoke for a lack of toughness in the German game.

Just as the Gaugisch team was fighting its way goal by goal (13:19), the co-hosts turned up the heat again. Germany were an equal opponent in the second half, but the burden from the opening phase was too great. At the European Championships in a year’s time, the DHB selection now has to make its next attempt at a medal. But the players didn’t look that far forward. “Now we’re fighting for fifth place, even if it’s going to be hard to get back up,” said Bölk.