Riding a wave of euphoria, they crashed into the wall

Few were expecting Denmark to lose by a landslide, so what went wrong?

France made history on Sunday when they crushed Denmark in the European Handball Championship 41-32. Never before has a team scored 41 goals in a European final.

Getting beaten by nine goals is Denmark’s biggest ever defeat in a tournament that has been running since 1994, and France’s margin of victory was the largest since Sweden beat Russia 34-21 in that year’s final.

And to think Denmark started off as favourites.

Carried away by euphoria
For the last two weeks, almost half the country has sat glued to their TV sets willing on the Danes to win on home soil. The group game against Spain (31-28) and semi win over Croatia (29-27) were among the most watched sport events in national television history, with each attracting more than two million viewers.

The spectators, commentators, media and the team members themselves had all contributed to Denmark preparing for the final amid a frenzy of expectation.

And that is why they lost, and lost so heavily, claims DR handball pundit Søren Herskind, a former national team player who has previously coached at club level.

“I had a bad feeling about the outcome of the match from the very start,” he told Ekstra Bladet tabloid.

“The team didn’t seem to be in the right mode. It was almost the same thing during the Croatia match, and I couldn’t help wonder if the team could handle the expectations of being the favourite.”

“I don’t understand why the victory against France before the championship was part of the reason why Denmark started as favourites,” continued Herskind.

“I think it is naïve and stupid to believe that the French players, with the experience they’ve got and the clubs they come from, are even remotely interested in winning a training match.” 

Media and coach also to blame
As well as this year’s unwanted record, Denmark also set a new low in last year’s final, suffering the biggest ever defeat in a World Championship final when it lost 35-19 to Spain. Herskind contends that it wasn’t just the strong home support that put off the players, but the expectations of the overall media coverage.

“It definitely does [affect them] with all the media coverage there’s been. But I also think coach Ulrik Wilbek is partly responsible. It was the same during the World Championship final against Spain last year, when Wilbek was the first to make the Danish team favourites. The team can’t handle it.”

Wilbek will hand over the position as head coach to the Icelandic trainer Gudmundur Gudmundsson when the season is over, and Herskind hopes that the new coach can equip the team better to handle the pressure.

“When the game isn’t going well, the team has too few tactics to work with. They just substitute the players,” he said.  

“We don’t have any alternatives when it comes to our defence. We need a coach with greater tactical skills to change that.”