Shares fan Joel Birlehm was very popular with German handball players after his outstanding World Cup performance against Serbia.
The goalkeeper was the celebrated match winner in the 34:33 win and was then showered with praise. "When he relaxed and forgot that he was at a World Cup, he helped us tremendously with his emotions and saves," national coach Alfred Gislason ennobled the 25-year-old World Cup newcomer.
The goalkeeper of Bundesliga third-placed Rhein-Neckar Löwen remained modest before the final preliminary round match against Algeria this Tuesday (6 p.m. / ZDF) in Katowice despite his sudden switch from supporting to main actor. "I know my role and try to help the team," said Birlehm. "I'm not a dream dancer and I'll try to do it again the next time I'm needed."
His team-mates treated Birlehm to the kind of attention that goalkeeper Andreas Wolff usually gets. "He was a bit overshadowed by Andreas Wolff, who is always the focus. I'm incredibly happy for him that he played such a game," said backcourt player Christoph Steinert on Monday.
Wolff is happy for Birlehm
Wolff, who after his strong performance in the opening win against Qatar was not able to shine in the duel with the Serbs and gave his colleague six years his junior the place between the posts shortly before the half-time break, also treated Birlehm to the spotlight. "I'm happy for him that he played such a great game and was able to lead us to victory. He showed his class," said Wolff.
But who is this Joel Birlehm? "He's a funny, humorous and very intelligent guy who loves to talk and talks a lot," said Steinert, the backcourt player. Julian Köster mentioned another goalkeeper quality: ambition.
And then there is Birlehm's soft spot for financial investments. "He's our financial guru because he keeps an eye on the stocks everywhere," said right-winger Patrick Groetzki. And Steinert added: "At some point he started to educate himself financially. He went very deep there."
Beginnings in Minden - number one with the lions
In terms of sport, Birlehm took his first steps at GWD Minden. He came to the Rhein-Neckar Löwen in January 2022 via the stations TuS N-Lübbecke and SC DHfK Leipzig, where he is the clear number one this season. "He's quick and has good positional play," Gislason said of the goalkeeper's strengths.
He was in the squad for the European Championship last year and before his debut at a major tournament. Shortly before the finals, however, Gislason chose Till Klimpke as a partner for seeded Wolff. When the duo dropped out during the finals after positive corona tests, Birlehm was supposed to step in, but canceled for personal reasons.
The main reason for this: a few days earlier, Birlehm had become a father for the first time. And then there was the matter of a four-legged friend. He had "a bit of a stomach ache coming to Bratislava because I'm going to get Charlotte and Mathilda out of the hospital tomorrow and I still have to take care of a dog here," quoted the "Bild" newspaper at the time from a text message from Birlehm to the team.
"Can learn a lot from Andi"
He has now finally arrived in the DHB selection and, in cooperation with Wolff, wants to ensure that the tournament goes far. "We talk to each other a lot and exchange ideas all day long. I can learn a lot from Andi," said Birlehm about the relationship with the 2016 European champion.
Wolff reports something similar. "Ultimately, it's important that we're on the same wavelength as a team and that we harmonize both sportingly and personally. I can't say anything bad about that," said the 31-year-old, adding: "We form a duo that our opponents will definitely respect to have."
The national coach, who had surprisingly nominated Birlehm instead of Klimpke as the second goalkeeper for the World Cup, observes the interaction of the team with pleasure. "They're very different guys, but it fits between the two," said Gislason. Not bad conditions for a successful World Cup.