It was the 22nd minute in the first group match against Serbia when Timur Dibirov showed once again how important he is for Russia's handball national team. Dibirov got the ball on the left wing, the angle was sharp, actually impossible - and yet no problem for Russia's most delicate handball player: two quick steps, a quick look and then a very fine turn in the corner below. In the end, it was only 30:30 for the Russians, but also the realization: Dibirov in his 200th international match has probably never made more beautiful at this World Cup.

The German national coach Christian Prokop will have the exactly registered. If Germany plays against Russia on Monday in the third round match (18 clock, live ticker SPIEGEL ONLINE, TV: ARD), he will have warned his players before Dibirov. Although he is already 35 years old, but still Russia's most important player. He has scored 15 goals in two games, but only to measure him by that would not do him justice. Because Dibirov also has a brilliant positional play, defends cleverly and with his speed is the ideal buyer for the speed counter-attacks, which Russia so gladly initiates.

When Germany's captain Uwe Gensheimer was asked about the strengths of the third group opponent, he said: "They mostly play in the 5-1 with Dibirov in front and he does that really well, is always in front of his feet and then back in the pass." It looked very good in the first game against Serbia, but also in the following 34:27 (20:13) victory over Korea. These were two games that can certainly be interpreted as a sign that Russia could play a better role this time than last time.

Russia's long way back to the top of the world

At the 2017 World Cup, Russia was only 12th, the European Championship a year ago then took place without this once proud handball nation, which had still been world champion in 1993 and 1997. In addition, the Olympic victories in 1992 and 2000 - there was a time when Russia was one of the strongest teams in the world, only just a long time ago.

And so the way to the finals in Germany and Denmark was a long one: Only the pre-qualification against Slovakia, Finland and Luxembourg, then two more playoff games against the Czech Republic.

The man to take Russia's handball player back to the top is Eduard Koksharov. As a player, he was part of the world champion and Olympic champion generation, as a coach, he won in 2004 with RK Celje the Champions League. Meanwhile, he is sports director at Macedonian top club RK Vardar Skopje - and since summer 2017 also national coach.


Russia coach Eduard Koksharov (r.) With Timur Dibirov

"Our goal is to get into the main round," Koksharov said before the tournament. And it looks like he can reach that goal. Even though he is missing with Sergei Gorbok, Konstantin Igropulo and Dimitri Santaloc injured three backcourt players.

Four players from Skopje are in the squad, including Dibirov, who even won the Champions League with the 2017 club and sports director Koksharov. Also Daniil Shishkarev plays for the Macedonian top club. At the World Cup he is on the right side the counterpart to left wing Dibirov.

Actually, the Russian squad should also belong to two Bundesliga professionals, but playmaker Pavel Atman (TSV Hannover-Burgdorf) missed the finals injured. Part of the 16-squad, however, is Sergei Gorpishin (HC Erlangen). At 21, he is Russia's second youngest player, having just completed four international matches before the tournament started.

This is another reason why no other player can tell the story of the generational change that Russia has to accomplish in the medium term as well as Gorpishin. Even his father Vyacheslav was a national player, he was there when Russia twice Olympic champion. And in the current squad is Dimitri Kowalev, 36, an actor who has played against Gorpishin Senior. Now right-winger Kowalev with his passports runner Sergej Gorpishin is in the limelight.