Alfred Gislason's tenure as national handball coach was strongly influenced by the corona pandemic. In an interview with the German Press Agency, the 63-year-old Icelander talks about his hopes and expectations for the World Cup from January 11th to 29th in Poland and Sweden.
On January 2nd you will start with your 18 chosen ones in the preparation for the World Cup. What will you pay special attention to in the training camp, what are the biggest construction sites?
Alfred Gislason: We will continue the work that we started last year. First and foremost, it's about fine-tuning in attack and defense. Of course it helps that we don't have any completely new people with us. Everyone knows each other a little better now. To minimize misunderstandings, we will try to move forward a little bit each day and come to a common denominator on various tactics. We don't have much time, but we want to use it effectively.
Build on work from the previous year
To what extent does it help that a core has formed within the team and that there is a certain basic understanding of the processes?
Gislason: It is very important that we have many players with us who were there at the last international training course in October and at the EM 2022. This allows us to build on the work we did last year.
The chaotic EM 2022 with 18 positive corona cases in the team presented all those involved with previously unknown challenges. How big are the hopes for a normal tournament?
Gislason: Very big. I think that Corona is now seen like the flu. The great excitement has subsided. We're going back to normal.
The EM has welded the team closely together. What is left of the spirit of Bratislava?
Gislason: Back then we saw how willing people were to support each other. I think that's mostly stayed the same. We have a very good atmosphere in the team, which really wants to be a team. Everyone knows that this is the only way. We have a very good team in terms of character.
Some teams before the DHB selection
And what about sport?
Gislason: That's always difficult to assess before a tournament. I think there are already a few teams ahead of us. There are the Danes, the Swedes, the French, the Spaniards, the Norwegians and the Icelanders. Behind us and many others.
What will be the key factors in the finals to be successful?
Gislason: First of all, it would be important that we are spared the bad luck with injuries and that everyone stays healthy. Especially in defence, we don't have that much choice. Then we have to get into the tournament well. Goalkeepers also play an important role. I think we've developed well in attack over the past few months. We make fewer mistakes and play better together. The decisive factor will be: How do we manage it in defence?
The team consists almost exclusively of players who can play both offense and defense. How happy are you with this development, which you called for when you took office almost three years ago?
Gislason: I'm very happy about that. I've always said to some players that they have to be able to assert themselves in defense at their clubs. It's nice for me to see that they have tackled this task and established themselves as important defenders.
What was the World Cup goal?
Gislason: I hope that by the end of January we can say that we played a really good tournament and that we can be proud of our performance, regardless of our placement.
In the preliminary round, the opponents are Qatar, Serbia and Algeria. Is Germany the favorite in this group?
Gislason: I think so. Our goal is to win the group. But Qatar and Serbia will also flirt with it. It's important to take as many points as possible into the main round because we want to reach the knockout stages. If you slip up in the preliminary round, you can hardly make up for it. That's why the group stage is the most important goal.
Not dreams, but realism
The DHB selection has been waiting for a medal at major events since the 2016 Olympic bronze medal. Can you give the fans hope that the dry spell is over?
Gislason: You can always hope for something in sport. It would be nice if we could give the fans a medal. But we're not in a position to call that a goal because we're not among the favourites. We mustn't dream, we have to remain realistic and concentrate on the group stage matches.
In 2024 the European Championship will take place in Germany. A good result at the World Cup would certainly be the perfect advertisement for that, wouldn't it?
Gislason: Without question. That's why we don't see the World Cup as a preparatory tournament for the European Championship. We want to be convincing now and achieve a good placement. After that we can start thinking about the home EM. Every game is important to us. The better we master the steps, the faster we will progress.
In recent years, in the course of a number of cancellations, there has been a heated debate about the attitude of the players to the national team. This time only Fabian Wiede gave up because he wants to undergo jaw surgery. Do you see that as the beginning of a change in mentality in relation to the national team?
Gislason: I had to inform some players that they would not be nominated. There was great disappointment, but it reflects what I noticed during the talks about the World Cup nomination. Everyone is dying to play for Germany. That is beautiful.
How much do you enjoy your job right now, after the first two years in office were anything but normal due to the corona pandemic?
Gislason: Lots of fun. I'm really looking forward to working with the team in 2023 and initially to a tournament where everything will again be decided on the pitch.
Personal details: Alfred Gislason (63) played 190 international matches for Iceland and played for TUSEM Essen in the Bundesliga from 1983 to 1988. In 1991 he began his coaching career, which led him back to Germany in 1997. After working in Hamelin, Magdeburg and Gummersbach, he was in charge of THW Kiel for eleven years with great success. He has been national coach since the beginning of February 2020.