Preview: Men’s handball semifinals

Germany vs. France 

2:30 p.m. EST

Two of the most disciplined teams in handball begin play on Saturday. 

Germany play a cool, focused style of play that rely on punishing teams from the pivot and back positions. Patrick Wienceck, Uwe Gensheimer and Tobias Reichmann have all been outstanding in moving the ball around the perimeter. 

Reichmann’s really been coming into his own as as a striker. He entered the tournament as Germany’s chief playmaker, but didn’t make a huge impact until the latter rounds of group play. 

This team absolutely crushed Qatar in the semifinals. Despite Rafael Capote’s best efforts, Germany were so well organized on defense that it frustrated nearly every other player. They forced 10 fast breaks – scoring on eight of those. Germany also didn’t just score from close range – 10 goals were scored from outside the nine meter crease. 

That kind of stat could bode well for them against France, another sharp defensive team that rarely allows players to break through the middle. 

The threats that Daniel Narcisse, Michael Guigou, Kentin Mahe, Luc Abalo and Nikola Karabatic possess are enough to drive defenses mad because it’s nearly impossible to shut these players down. 

Narcisse can outjump almost any player and uses his physicality to pummel people through the center back position. Guigou and Abalo are both experts in finding the gaps on thinly-stretched defenses. Mahe and Karabatic are scoring machines. 

It’s going to be a very physical game with very little separating these two teams. Both maintain cool heads and rely on sharp defense to see out a victory. Both teams move very well, pass well and are capable of scoring from any position. 

What separates these two, then, might just be depth. France’s ensemble provides the star players with rest, and could easily manage their own positions and tire out the legs of a team with fewer options. Brazil learned that the hard way. Despite holding France close in the first half, Brazil didn’t have enough pieces on their bench to match France and the French quickly wore them out. 

That might be the difference today. Gensheimer, Reichmann and Wiencek are going to have their hands full for most of the match and might not have enough help to usurp the French and make the gold medal match. 

Denmark vs. Poland

7:30 p.m. EST

Denmark have been excellent the entire tournament, which was evident when they defeated defense specialists Slovenia in the quarterfinals. Denmark put 37 past the best defense in the tournament. 

Poland’s trip to the semifinals was a bit more dramatic in their upset over Croatia. Despite Croatia’s physical style of play, Poland moved the ball very well and took advantage of the pockets that the Croatian defense gave up. 

Mikkel Hansen and Lasse Svan continue to be the two primary threats for Denmark. Hansen’s wide versatility as a pivot/back invites himself to be individually closed down by the defense, which has continuously opened up play for Svan on the wing. When defense tries to contain him it’s Mads Christiansen working on the other wing. 

Denmark work incredibly well around the perimeter on both sides of the floor, transition well and can score from just about anywhere. 

Poland’s offense begins with Karol Bielecki, who was lights-out against Croatia and a huge reason for their success in this tournament. Like Hansen, Bielecki’s presence draws attention and opens space for his teammates. His main assets are Michal Daszek and Kryzystof Lijewski, who both work on the right side of the court – which is also the side from which Svan operates. 

As the game moves into its latter stages expect either Hansen or Bielecki to take charge. What the game will most likely come down to, though, is movement on the perimeter, which plays better to Denmark’s strengths.