Denmark vs France: the ultimate showdown
Denmark and France are familiar opponents, last meeting in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games final on 7 August last year. On Wednesday they clash again in the closing main round match of the Men's EHF EURO 2022, with a place in the semi-finals potentially at stake for France.
Two EHF EURO journalists very familiar with the sides and their recent years on court – Frenchman Kevin Domas and not-Danish but brief resident of Denmark, Courtney Gahan – present their arguments for who will win the battle this time around.
Ready to rumble after a comfortable campaign
France ended up romping to a big win against Montenegro but had to go through a tough first half against the Balkan team. Prior to that, France certainly lost energy as they fought to overcome Iceland but ended up succumbing to their biggest EHF EURO defeat in history.
In contrast, Denmark have had a relatively relaxed run to this point in the tournament. The Scandinavian side have won all their games — the only team in the competition with this record — and finished the preliminary round with clearly the best goal difference of any side, showing how comfortable their wins were. They also had the best goal difference of the top 12 teams ahead of the last main round matches.
This record means they have been able to conserve energy with extensive rotation and will take the court against France in top shape — a factor that could be very important in a game where the small details will likely decide the winner.
Changes in Denmark’s favour since Olympic final
France won the Tokyo 2020 final against Denmark by two goals, 25:23. But there have been some key changes for France related to who was important in that game to now. Nedim Remili was France’s top scorer in the Olympic final and is now missing due to a broken foot. Kentin Mahe was a key influence although he did not score so many goals — his emotion brings a lot of energy and drive for France. And Mahe is absent due to Covid.
Denmark’s key scorers in the Olympic Games, Mikkel Hansen and Mathias Gidsel — who also played the standout roles in attack as they defended their world title one year ago in Egypt — are in prime form.
Hansen was the third top scorer of the EHF EURO 2022 at the end of main round 3, with 39 goals, while Gidsel sits eighth in this ranking with 35. Incredibly, Gidsel has missed only one goal in the entire EURO for an unbelievable shooting accuracy of 97.2 per cent.
In addition, Gidsel has made the second most assists at the EURO — 33 — and ranks top in the combined assists and goals ranking while Hansen is third.
France are known for their defence for sure, but can they stop these two again?
The bench battle
Kevin has already examined how teams adapted to their missing coaches and it seems both France and Iceland have managed the absences fine. But in a game like this, where we can hope for a close ending that will have us on the edge of our seats, will the absence of a head coach be a factor?
A last timeout in the critical dying minutes can be very important, and with Guillaume Gille in isolation, France may notice his absence more than they have yet. Meanwhile, Denmark’s Nikolaj Jacobsen will be ready to advise his side on how to handle any decisive moments late in the game.
The Olympic final between the two came down to the final actions, and it was actually Gidsel who caused the last turnover for France to net the decider in the last seconds, but Denmark will surely have learned from that occasion and will probably not make the same mistake again. And Jacobsen will be there to ensure, as far as he can, that it does not.
Win or go home
Everything was going smoothly for France, as they arrived in Budapest having won all their preliminary round games quite comfortably. Despite the hostile atmosphere, neither Croatia or Serbia were able to shake off the Olympic champions. Neither were the Netherlands in the first main round game.
And then it all collapsed. Maybe too confident, maybe lost without their defensive masters Ludovic Fabregas and Karl Konan, France stumbled and crashed to the ground against Iceland. Since then, they have been running after the lost points. Now, quite simply, if they do not at least take a point against Denmark, France will be out of the race for the semis. That is quite a motivation.
Defence is the key
Denmark might be the best attack of the tournament so far, thanks partly to Mikkel Hansen and Mathias Gidsel. But France have some arguments to stop the duo. Their defensive strength has been the key since the beginning of the tournament, allowing them to apply their own rhythm to the games they have played.
Montenegro were the ones to suffer that, in the last main round game. Zoran Roganovic’s side managed to find solutions for 20 minutes, but they slowly ran out of solutions over the course of the game. Sure, Denmark are playing on yet another level but France have definitely the power to upset their opponent’s attack in the long-term.
And, by the way, they also have got Vincent Gerard between the posts. Remember him?
Denmark might have Mathias Gidsel but, apart from him, all the players composing their squad are pretty well-known. The same thing cannot be said about France, a side that incorporated seven new players just before the EHF EURO. And that could be used as a weapon in this decisive game.
Aymeric Minne, in particular, will have the huge task of leading France’s game on Wednesday, and he remains pretty unknown to many Danish players. It is always easier to defend someone you know by heart than a new player. Minne, but also Melvyn Richardson and Théo Monar, are players that the Danish staff and the Danish goalkeepers might have not studied as much as they have Nikola Karabatic over the years.
Could France’s win come from one of these new players?
The answers to all these questions will be revealed on Wednesday in Budapest, with throw-off at 20:30 CET (live on EHFTV).