It is an alarming sign when Andreas Wolff is honored as the man of the match in the first World Cup match of the German team. Against a blatant outsider like Korea, the German goalkeeper had to show 15 parades, 14 of them alone in the first half. A statistic that does not exactly speak for the defensive, which was considered before the tournament as a great strength of the German handball players. Actually, the scorers should finally shine on this evening and throw the second-rate opponent out of the hall.

Do the German fans have to worry about their team a year ago after the European Championship debacle? Statistics can be deceptive.

In the 30:19 (17:10) victory against Korea Wolff shone especially, but with some tutoring. Wolff's excellent goalkeeping performance (56 percent defended balls) was provoked by his own team. "If the Andi holds well, you can also allow a lot in the defense," said Uwe Gensheimer after the opening match at the Handball World Cup in Germany and Denmark.

What the Superstar of the DHB selection meant, had previously become clearer in the field: The defense often left the Koreans surprisingly much space, but granted the physically inferior opponents mostly only distance shots and went so well a manageable risk to concede a counterattack. In short, she hoped for a defensive action by the goalkeeper, and then quickly hit by counterattack.

Wolff paid back the trust several times. But the whole truth is also that his teammates appeared nervous at the beginning and acted in hectic phases of driving - and that's why he came on his 15 parades. But these minor mistakes almost seem like trivialities when you think back to the memorable bad EM a year ago, when the DHB plunged into a deep crisis.

Brazil as the first real sample

Therefore, it was not surprising when later almost all players spoke of a "very good feeling", knowing that they had just beaten just one of the weakest 24 World Cup participants.

These are the favorites and outsiders

Outsider: Angola (Group D, opponents: Egypt, Argentina, Qatar, Hungary, Sweden)
Angola is clear outsider at the World Cup. The country was previously qualified for a finals three times and always dropped out in the first round, most recently two years ago with zero points from five games and a goal difference of 122: 191. Angola will miss the second round this year as well, the team - almost the entire squad is under contract to Angolan clubs - is not competitive. Physically, the players are clearly inferior to the European pros, and so are most of the outsiders that followed.

Outsider: Chile (Group C, opponents: Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Austria, Norway, Denmark)
Chile will not play a major role in the final tournament. The country has always missed the intermediate round in his previous four appearances, it should also come this time. Who should you pay attention to? On the trio Erwin, Harald and Emil Feuchtmann. The grandchildren of a German emigrating to Chile are the top stars of their team, Emil Feuchtmann (photo) is the head of the team.

Outsider: Bahrain (Group B, opponents: Japan, Iceland, Macedonia, Croatia, Spain)
Bahrain will face European champions Spain in their opening match. At the latest then it will be clear: After the preliminary round is over. The team is missing players from a European top league, only the coach Aron Kristjánsson brings international experience. The Icelander was already head coach of his native country and trained in Germany Hannover-Burgdorf from 2010 to 2011.

Outsider: Japan (Group B, opponents: Bahrain, Iceland, Macedonia, Croatia, Spain)
One of the group opponents of the Bahrain is Japan, which could qualify only thanks to a wildcard for the finals. For handball fans, an appearance of the Japanese selection should still be interesting, the head coach of the Asians is the former DHB coach Dagur Sigurdsson. The Icelander had surprisingly won the European title in 2016 with Germany. Sigurdsson is to prepare the handball players for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.

Outsider: Korea (Group A, opponents: Germany, France, Russia, Serbia, Brazil)
Korea (Germany's opponent in the opening match) is traveling to the World Cup with a unified team from South and North Korea, 16 South Koreans and four North Koreans have been nominated (special permit from the IHF, all other World Cup squads are limited to 16 players). This is the first time since the Winter Olympics, a Korean association team at the start. Coach Cho has announced that at least one player from North Korea will play in each game - the problem: there is a clear difference in levels. Korea is such an outsider, the World Cup will focus on the hope of a political rapprochement of the two neighboring countries.

Outsider: Saudi Arabia (Group C, opponents: Chile, Tunisia, Austria, Norway, Denmark)
Saudi Arabia are qualified for a World Cup for the ninth time, so far always in the preliminary round was over. And so it will probably come this time, the squad is missing professionals with international experience. On the side of the IHF, where fans can assess all the squad of the World Cup participants, the team from Saudi Arabia is rated with only two out of five stars - the worst value in the IHF fan ranking.

Outsider: Tunisia (Group C, opponents: Saudi Arabia, Chile, Austria, Norway, Denmark)
The current African champion is now part of the fixed inventory of a handball World Cup and is qualified for the 13th consecutive year for the finals. The greatest success in these years was the fourth place at the home World Cup 2005. Without the support of the audience is not to expect much from this team. After all, with the 27-year-old Wael Jallouz (photo), the country has an international top player from FC Barcelona in its ranks.

Outsider: Austria (Group C, opponents: Saudi Arabia, Chile, Tunisia, Norway, Denmark)
Goalkeeper Robert Weber (photo) from SC Magdeburg you have to remember - he is the top star of the selection. The Bundesliga players Nikola Bilyk (THW Kiel) and Raul Santos (Leipzig) also represent international class. Above all, however, players from the internationally insignificant Handball League Austria are bustling. In short: Austria is the weakest representative from Europe. After a second place at the finals in 1938, Austria never again played an important role in a World Cup. Target: the entry into the main round. In an overall weaker group that is feasible.

Outsider: Argentina (group D, opponents: Egypt, Angola, Qatar, Hungary, Sweden)
A little stronger than the previous outsiders is Argentina. The South Americans are no passing customers and have made it in their previous ten World Cup participations again and again beyond the preliminary round. One of the most experienced is 36-year-old goalkeeper Matías Carlos Schulz (pictured), who has played at several European clubs. Bitter: The most famous player Diego Simonet, who has led Montpellier to Champions League victory, threatens to fail for the tournament. Overall, the potential for a real surprise is missing.

15th place: Brazil's best World Cup performance so far: 13th place at the 2013 World Cup (Group A, opponents: Korea, Serbia, Germany, Russia, France)
At a slightly higher level than Argentina is Brazil, which has qualified continuously since 1995 for a World Cup finals. The South Americans have a passionate squad with many young players but can not compete at the top level. Germany will meet Brazil in the preliminary round, in preparation for the DHB selection had completed shortly before the World Cup start a friendly against Argentina, which occurs similarly body-conscious. The test won the German team clearly.

14th place: Egypt , best World Cup performance so far: Fourth place in the 2001 World Cup (Group D, opponents: Angola, Argentina, Qatar, Hungary, Sweden)
At the turn of the millennium, Egypt was one of the ten best teams in the world, and at the 2001 World Cup, the nation even reached fourth place. With such a placement is not to be expected this time, but Egypt wants two years before the World Cup in their own country (then the field is increased from currently 24 to 32 teams and the tournament quality further watered down) well presented. With Mohamed Mamdouh of Montpellier a current Champions League winner is in the squad, overall, the team is quite experienced (nine of the 16 championship riders have already each played over 200 internationals).

13th place: Serbia best World Cup performance so far: Eighth place at the 2009 World Championships (Group A, opponents: Korea, Brazil, Russia, Germany, France)
The Serbs belong to the variety "uncomfortable", but are out of the question for the top places. The squad is not well enough in the middle, some changes on the coach bank caused concern. Currently, Nenad Perunicic is head coach, who has won several titles in his playing career with Magdeburg, Kiel and Barcelona. The performer in the team of the German group opponent is the young right winger Darko Dukic.

12th place: Russia , best World Cup performance so far: World Champion 1993, 1997 (Group A, opponents: Germany, Brazil, France, Korea, Serbia)
World Champion, European Champion, Olympic Champion - Russia was the handball nation at the turn of the millennium. Most recently, however, the country was missing in the European Championship, played no more role in the World Cup. Between these tops and flops lies the mediocrity - that is exactly where Russia's selection is currently classified, it is still in a state of flux. One of the hopefuls is Timur Dibirov (photo) of top club Vardar Skopje, the top scorer with over 600 international matches is one of the most successful launcher in his country, goes with his 35 years but also to the end of career.

11th place: Iceland , best World Cup performance so far: fifth place at the 1997 World Championships (Group B, opponents: Spain, Croatia, Macedonia, Bahrain, Japan)
No, he does not go hunting for goals this time: Gudjón Valur Sigurdsson (photo) holds the world record with over 1800 goals in his international career and will miss the World Cup because of an injury. So top-star Aron Pálmarsson from FC Barcelona leads a solid and young team. For Iceland, it is in a group with the top teams Spain and Croatia for the third place, which qualifies for the entry into the main round - the worst rival for this place is Macedonia, which we rank better in our ranking.

10th place: Macedonia , best World Cup performance so far: ninth place at the 2015 World Cup (Group B, opponents: Spain, Croatia, Iceland, Bahrain, Japan)
From Macedonia comes with Vardar Skopje one of the best club teams in the world. The coach of the national selection is Raúl Gonzalez, a top coach who also trains Paris Saint-Germain, and with Kiril Lazarov, the team has one of the most experienced and dangerous players in world handball. The problem: Macedonia's squad is not good enough in the width, the selection must fear for the entry into the main round.

9th place: Hungary , best World Cup performance so far: Vice World Champion 1986 (Group D, opponents: Sweden, Qatar, Argentina, Egypt, Angola)
The European Championship in Croatia ended for the ambitious Hungary with a bitter disappointment - off in the preliminary round. In October, head coach Ljubomir Vranjes (2014 Champions League winner with Flensburg) had to leave his post. Now a restart on the coaching position should help, some good players are already present: The stars are called Máté Lékai (photo) and goalkeeper Roland Mikler, both of which are under contract with the Hungarian top club Veszprém.

8th place: Qatar , best World Cup performance so far: Vice World Champion 2015 (Group D, opponents: Sweden, Hungary, Argentina, Egypt, Angola)
Before the home World Cup in 2015, Qatar had bought a number of top stars. This was made possible by a rule of the World Federation IHF, according to which athletes may change their nationality, provided that they have not played a competitive match for their home country for three years. Some stars of that time, top coach Valero Rivera, goalkeeper Danijel Saric (photos) or Zarko Markovic, for example, are still there. Quality is there, but the stars have grown old, sustainable success has not set. The main round will reach Qatar, then it's over.

Rank 7: Norway , best World Cup performance so far: Vice World Champion 2017 (Group C, opponents: Denmark, Austria, Tunisia, Chile, Saudi Arabia)
Norway is the runner-up and has one of the most exciting players on the record, Sander Sagosen of Paris Saint-Germain. A repeat of the success of two years ago would be a sensational success for the 23-year-old backcourt star and his team-mates, the 2018 European Championship had shown that the young Norwegians in the spotlight have problems - the team is still not a top team. However, their coach Christian Berge, who has already celebrated great successes with Flensburg in Germany, embodies an absolute top.

6th place: Croatia , best World Cup performance so far: World Champion 2003 (Group B, opponents: Spain, Macedonia, Iceland, Bahrain, Japan)
The Croatians have with Domagoj Duvnjak one of the best player makers in the world in their ranks. The 30-year-old from THW Kiel is shaping the game of his team, and the team is damned dependent on the world handball player of 2013. This is curse and blessing at the same time, as the disappointing home European Championship showed a year ago, as Duvnjak after a prolonged injury not could occur at its best. Luka Cindric from Kielce is a promise for the future, he still has to prove himself. In the 2003 World Cup winner, some have to go beyond themselves to reach the semi-finals.

5th place: Germany , best World Cup performance so far: World Champion 1938, 1978, 2007 (Group A, opponents: Brazil, Russia, Serbia, France, Korea)
Germany hopes for a push by the home advantage and has a balanced team (showpiece: the defensive) available, according to Christian Prokop the move to the semi-finals is already a success. These words can be followed, because there are problems: The team must show after the EM debacle that it has with DHB coach Prokop but a common line has found in the back room is missing a towering leader who directs the team. Uwe Gensheimer is the only superstar, but he also disappointed at the European Championships a year ago. The main round will reach Germany, where the opponents of Group B would be waiting with Spain and Croatia, which you probably have to leave both behind. Yes, the semi-finals would definitely be a success.

4th place: Sweden , best World Cup performance so far: World Champion 1954, 1958, 1990, 1999 (Group D, opponents: Hungary, Qatar, Argentina, Egypt, Angola)
Sweden is the most exciting team and the first of four top teams in this finals. The four-time world champion has increased after weak years last again, was in the previous year with an impressive speed handball championship second place. Chances are that the team will continue its run of success. The team is young, capable of development, some top performers also play together at the German champions Flensburg and thus know important processes. Sweden has - unlike Germany - the slightly lighter tournament half with group C and D caught. In short: The semi-finals are easy to imagine.

3rd place: Spain , best World Cup performance so far: World Champions 2005 and 2013 (Group B, opponents: Croatia, Macedonia, Iceland, Bahrain, Japan)
Before the European Championship 2018 we did not count Spain among the top favorites. The reason: the outdated squad. Spain was then quite convincingly European champion, the team worked extremely well together - keyword: sworn bunch. Before the World Cup, Spain is still old and the squad is dominated by veterans such as Valero Rivera (33 years old), Raúl Entrerríos (37) and Julen Aguinagalde (36). The European Championship also showed that younger players such as Ferrán Solé have a decisive influence on the team. This mix of young and old will bring Spain far ahead at the World Cup.

2nd place: France , best World Cup performance so far: World Champions 1995, 2001, 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2017 (Group A, opponents: Russia, Germany, Serbia, Brazil, Korea)
The record-breaking world champion has the strongest squad - backcourt Kentin Mahé, top talent Dika Mem from FC Barcelona or right-winger Luc Abalo from Paris Saint-Germain - France is top notch in every position. In addition, the French league is now considered the best in the world, last three French teams were in the Final Four of the Champions League.

But: Nikola Karabatic is missing injured. Sure, the multiple World Handballer is 34 years old, has at least reached his sporting zenith - but he is just the absolute leader in the team. How important a conductor is in the back room, becomes clear in the DHB selection, where such a player type is missing and desperately sought. Behind France's mission title defense you have to set a question mark without karabatic, so there is in our ranking the second place.

1st place: Denmark , best World Cup performance so far: Vice World Champion 1967, 2011, 2013 (Group C, opponents: Norway, Austria, Tunisia, Chile, Saudi Arabia)
With home advantage for the first time to become world champion, that's what the Danes dream of and that's the mission for Nikolaj Jacobsen, who is also head coach of the Rhein-Neckar Löwen. With superstar Mikkel Hansen (Paris Saint-Germain, photo), the dream duo in the goal (Niklas Landin / Jannick Green) or Casper Mortensen (FC Barcelona), the Danes are our title contender number one, especially as they have also caught the slightly easier tournament half.

The team is experienced, almost everyone in the team is at a top club under contract, the home World Cup could push the team in addition. But: Denmark has often had problems in the role of favorites. At the EC a year ago, the selection was surprisingly eliminated in the semi-final against Sweden, who had then gone into the tournament as an outsider. France's squad is actually a little stronger, but there is no leader Nikola Karabatic, the consequences of this personality are not yet in sight. One thing is certain: There is no absolute over-team at this tournament.

Even Christian Prokop seemed relieved when he was allowed to raise his arms with the final siren. As a reminder: The national coach was advised after the European Championship in the criticism and had to worry about his job. The SPIEGEL said the 40-year-old before the World Cup, he had then overwhelmed the team with his ideas. The relationship between him and the crew seemed shattered. Whether the interaction between coach and team works better, was the big question before the World Cup.

The doubts have become smaller with the success against the union team from North and South Korea, but not finally wiped out. Goalkeeper Wolff ordered the opponent and the significance of the high victory quite right: "I am pleased when on Saturday the tournament really starts," said the 27-year-old from THW Kiel. On Saturday Brazil will have a physically stronger team than Korea.

For a good starting position for the entry into the main round Germany must beat the South Americans, only the first three teams of each group of six move into the next round. Against the strongest opponents Serbia, Russia and defending champion France, the German defense will have to defend more compact. Here you will find the complete schedule.

Team spirit to the outside

Wolff's form makes the DHB selection in any case hope for further success. Also, as he played against Korea, could prevent further unrest around the team: During the game, the number one exchanged repeatedly with representatives Silvio Heinevetter, clapping after parades, cheers for goalscoring - what is considered to be normal among teammates, was at the Both rivals have been different in the past.

Just a few days ago former international Michael "Mimi" Kraus had complained that Prokop had gone to the tournament with the competing goalkeepers. "It's an open secret that Wolff and Heinevetter are not the best of friends," said Kraus. Apparently, the two goalkeepers have a deal with each other, if only as a community of convenience for three weeks.



One thing is certain, and that is perhaps the decisive finding of the game: the DHB selection demonstrates a new team spirit. Goalkeeper Wolff jerked his thumb several times in the direction of Prokop, after the game almost all of the 16 players landed in the arms of the national coach. This unity has hardly existed in the EM embarrassment. Against Korea, the entire squad was used, the message: All are needed for a successful World Cup.

The head of the German handball federation had demanded a team, which enthuses and makes advertisement for the handball. Wolff took on this task especially for the start of the tournament. The keeper was already one of the key players in the European Championship victory three years ago. Maybe that's a good omen. But for the athletic goal semifinal even more teammates will have to follow his example.