French handball: the end of the state of grace


Mdespite the Covid-19, sport is trying to survive. The Men’s Handball World Cup in Egypt will be the first major team sport competition for almost a year. But it has been a long time since the France team had approached a tournament with so few benchmarks and certainties. “France can be scared, because the level is worrying”, summarizes Thomas Ferro Villechaize, the Mr. Handball of beIN Sports, who will broadcast the entire World Cup and the Blues matches.

After the 14e place brought back from Euro 2020, it was not the qualifying matches of Euro 2022 against Serbia, for a defeat (27-24) and a draw (26-26), which reassured. The 2020 debacle cost Didier Dinart, successor to Claude Onesta in 2016, his post, who was not unworthy: a world champion title (2017) and two bronze medals at the Euro (2018) and at the Global (2019). It highlighted the divide between the former coach, replaced by his deputy Guillaume Gille, and a group that he has not been able to rebuild or develop.

Reconstruction or transition?

“Since 2017, the more time passed, the less this team was performing and was scary,” concedes Jérôme Fernandez, top scorer in the history of the Blues. “The generational transition has not taken place”, analyzes Thomas Ferro Villechaize. “It has always been part of the DNA of these Blues: integrating young players, to make a kind of genetic mutation. This scheme has been somewhat abandoned for three years. And above all, according to him, a certain difficulty in separating from the old glories. “By desire for continuity and despite aging players, Gille and Dinart relied on a hard core,” slips the journalist. “But how can we talk about reconstruction, when it is almost the same players who have been in the selection for three years? Let’s talk about transition, in this case. It’s fashionable with the ecological transition. But, for the moment, I no longer have the impression of seeing the ice melting in the French team… ”

Twenty players have been called up for this World Cup, such as Dika Mem (23 years old), Nedim Remili (25 years old), Ludovic Fabregas (24 years old), or Melvyn Richardson (23 years old), son of legend Jackson Richardson. But the projects that await Guillaume Gille are immense. The defense, which has long allowed the Blues (twice winners of the Olympics, six times of the World Cup and three times of the Euro) to crush their sport, is still looking for itself. Thomas Ferro Villechaize hopes that a leader will emerge, while the absence of Nikola Karabatic, injured, will weigh. “His weight in the team, his experience, the fear he inspires in opponents … His forfeit is penalizing”, admits Jérôme Fernandez. The former international also requires a little patience: “We have very talented players, but who have not played together for a long time. We cannot expect the same performances as those of players who have played together for more than ten years. “

Time, the Blues do not really have it. Thursday, it is Norway, finalist of the last two Worlds, which presents itself. “This match will be very complicated, it must be used to prepare the next two (against Austria and Switzerland), then the main round”, analyzes Jérôme Fernandez, who hopes that the Blues will reach the top 8, or even win a podium. Thomas Ferro Villechaize is “not very optimistic”: “Could we speak of success if France just reached the quarters? I am not convinced. “

The presence of the Blues at the Olympics not certain?

After this World Cup, a crucial meeting awaits this team in March, with the Olympic qualifying tournament to hope to win a ticket for the Olympics against Tunisia, Portugal and Croatia. The specter of an absence from the Games, which has not happened since 1988, hangs over. Not making the trip to Tokyo (where the girls will go) would be a slap in the face for the second French collective sport in terms of number of licensees. This fell below the 500,000 mark in 2019 (490,998, according to the FFH), a first since 2013: a decrease that coincides with the end of the state of grace of the Blues. For Jérôme Fernandez, “the stated objective is to get back on the podium – and if possible on the highest step – at the Paris Olympics”. By then, the Blues may have won a new nickname after “the Barjots”, “the Strong” or “the Experts”. “If we are in reconstruction, why not site managers “, jokes Thomas Ferro Villechaize, before proposing “the Builders”. Paris (2024) was not done in a day.


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