“A moment of rocking”, according to coach Guillaume Gille; the one who opens the doors of a medal or rings the bell for the return home. Unbeaten since arriving in Egypt, the France team faces Hungary, Wednesday, January 27, at 8:30 p.m., in the quarter-finals of the Men’s Handball World Cup, to reach the last four of the competition.
A victory would mark the return of the Blues to the elite of world handball, they who, eliminated in the first round of Euro 2020, have never returned, for more than twenty years, from two consecutive competitions without winning a medal. To achieve this, it will be necessary to tame the young colossi of the Magyars.
Hungary, surprise of the World Cup
Hungary had an almost flawless course in this Egyptian World Cup, until its defeat against Spain (36-28) in the last match of the main round, decisive for the head of the group in which it appeared. The Magyar selection won its first five matches, trapping Germany (29-28), a major world handball team, in the preliminary phase.
Facing La Roja, coach Istvan Gulyas preferred to leave his managerial players at rest – goalkeeper Roland Mikler, pivot Bence Banhidi and center-half Mate Lekai – and gave the impression of skipping the match to avoid Denmark in the semi-finals. A questionable strategy, according to the members of the France team. “It’s a bit of a lack of respect”, judge rear Dika Mem. “The Hungarian staff thought they would have better luck against us. We must respect their choice, but it stings us, it gives us a little more desire to beat them ”, assures winger Valentin Porte.
Used to major competitions, Hungary, ninth in the last Euro, rarely finishes on the podium, but often in the Top 10 – her only international medal, silver, was won at the 1986 world championship. But Guillaume Gille remains cautious : “Hungary has always done good things in recent years, but couldn’t find consistency. At this World Cup, it has shown itself to be stable and efficient. We will need to be present at the meeting ”, warns the coach.
A half-center axis and explosive pivot
Hungary, co-organizer, with Slovakia, of the next Euro in 2022, aligns a young generation which evolves largely in its national championship, of which the two flagship clubs, Veszprem (that of Kentin Mahé) and Szeged play for several years the first roles in the Champions League. A powerful, dense and massive team, the Hungarian selection has nearly half of the players in its major seven at more than two meters.
The Magyars articulate their game around their center-half Mate Lekai, a real control tower of the attack, well relayed by the young Matyas Gyori (23 years old). The privileged relationship of the experienced Lekai with the pivot Bence Banhidi, a colossus of 25 years (2.06 m, 120 kg), wreaks havoc in the opposing defenses.
“He is perhaps one of the best pivots in the world today”, argues Valentin Porte. “It is heavy to move, to contain and to go around. He has already shone well since the start of the championship ”, abounds Erick Mathé, the assistant coach. It will be up to the pillars of the French defense, Ludovic Fabregas (1.98 m, 100 kg) and Luka Karabatic (2.02 m, 109 kg) to break this strong axis of the Magyar attack. “We will have to be very vigilant on this pivotal mid-center relationship”, insists Guillaume Gille.
Also pay attention to Roland Mikler’s prowess in goal (11 saves per game on average) and to “Long distance power” of “Big jigs” Magyars, warns Valentin Porte. “We will have to practice handball movement. It’s handball that I love ”, relishes the Montpellier player.
Which opponent for the Blues in the event of qualification?
French players do not want to project beyond the game against Hungary. It is true that their journey, since their disappointing results against Serbia in early January in qualifying for Euro 2022, calls for caution. In Egypt, they alternated the – very – good, against Norway and Portugal, and the much worse, against Switzerland and Algeria in particular. But six wins in as many games give confidence and some certainty to a group that was sorely lacking.
“So far, I am pleasantly surprised by our course. But I know we are capable of falling back into our faults ”, recalls, as a warning, Valentin Porte who calls for “Humility” to qualify for the semi-finals. See more, ” which has not happened to us for a very long time ”. “It’s true that we’ve come a long way, a lot of people didn’t believe it, abounds Dika Mem. But in everyone’s mind, it’s clear, we have three games left to go to the end. ”
In case of victory against Hungary, the Blues will face the winner of the match between Sweden, deprived of its best elements, and Qatar, in search of their handball since the 2015 World Cup at home. Whatever he is, the opponent will be a priori affordable for a French team, certainly still in reconstruction, but found. Half of the table for the Blues, which does not include Denmark, Spain or Norway, the other three big contenders for the title, allows Guillaume Gille’s men to dream big.