When Denmark start their EHF EURO 2018 campaign against Hungary on January 12 in Varazdin, it will also be the start of the first real test for their coach, Nikolaj Jacobsen, the former left wing who enjoyed successful spells with THW Kiel and Viborg HK as well as the Danish national team.
After a successful EHF EURO qualification campaign, Jacobsen appears able to send his strongest outfit to Croatia for his first major competition after he took over from now Bahrain head coach, Gudmundur Gudmundsson, last February after the Icelander had guided the Danes to Olympic Gold at Rio 2016 before a disappointing 10th place finish at the 2017 IHF Men’s World Championship a year ago.
Only last-minute injuries can stop Denmark from turning up with their strongest outfit in Croatia later this month.
The core of their squad consists of in-form players from the German Bundesliga, and the vast majority of those turn up with plenty of self-confidence from a successful autumn in one of, if not, the, strongest handball leagues in the world.
Jacobsen’s named squad of 17 consists of players who are perfect for his preferred 6-0 defence, but it also contains a variety of great attacking players. “We will be allowed six substitutions throughout the final tournament, so there will be no reserve among my 17 players,” he said. “Instead, we will be rotating these players according to our needs along the way.”
Successful attacking play requires good playmakers and Denmark have three of those, all arriving in Croatia with fresh success from the Bundesliga.
Rasmus Lauge from SG Flensburg-Handewitt, Mads Mensah Larsen for back-to-back champions Rhein-Neckar Lowen and Morten Olsen from TSV Hannover Burgdorf have all proved that they are in top shape and all possess various qualities which will come in useful to Denmark during the tournament.
At left back, Mikkel Hansen is obviously still the star, but the PSG player has a great stand-in with Michael Damgaard from SC Magdeburg.
Right back seems to be the only position that may cause Danish worries after Kasper Sondergaard and Mads Christiansen left the national team and Niklas Kirkelokke from GOG and Peter Balling from TTH Holstebro have both only recently returned from injury.
On the wings, Denmark are well-equipped with Lasse Svan from SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Hans Lindberg from Fuchse Berlin on the right, and Casper U. Mortensen from Hannover as well as Magnus Landin from KIF Kolding Kobenhavn on the left.
The line is in good hands too with brothers Henrik and Rene Toft Hansen as well as Henrik Toft´s teammate in Flensburg, Anders Zachariassen, taking care of that physical position.
One of the first things Jacobsen did after taking over as national coach was moving the backs in his 6-0 formation further back. This step has been a success so far, and in Croatia this rather defensive variation of the 6-0 defence will also be the backbone to the Danish game.
This defence should also be the foundation for the usually efficient Danish fast breaks, from which the fast wings should benefit.
With Rene Toft Hansen from THW Kiel and Mollgaard from Paris Saint-Germain, Denmark have a perfect duo for central defence, while Magnus Landin, younger brother of goalkeeper Niklas Landin, can play left back in defence and left wing in attack. This frees the Danes from having to make a substitution between attack and defence.
A strong defence means good goalkeepers and behind the Danish 6-0 wall Kiel shot-stopper Niklas Landin is as good as ever, and his substitute, Jannick Green from Magdeburg is not far behind.
Nikolaj Jacobsen was only due to take over as national coach last summer, but predecessor Gudmundur Gudmundsson stepped down after Denmark’s disappointing exit at France 2017 and the 46-year-old Jacobson took over last February.
After leading the Danish team successfully through the rest of the qualification tournament for the EHF EURO 2018, Jacobsen is now in for his first major championship as coach, but he can approach this challenge knowing success has been glued to his name in recent years.
After winning the Danish championship with Aalborg Handbold in 2013, he won the German championship with Rhein-Neckar Löwen in 2016 and 2017 and his German ‘Lions’ will spend their winter break on top of the Bundesliga.
Furthermore, Jacobsen can find consequence in the fact that he was the man the Danish national team players as well as the Danish media wanted for the job and the EHF EURO 2018 is his big chance to prove worthy of this enormous trust.
A semi-final berth is the obvious first goal for the ruling Olympic champions. However, the Danes may already find challenges in their preliminary group with Spain, Hungary and the Czech Republic as their opponents.
Provided Denmark reach the main round – which they should be able to – three teams from a group consisting of defending European champions Germany as well as Slovenia, Montenegro and FYR Macedonia will join them.
At first sight, the two semi-final tickets from this half of the tournament might be a battle among Denmark, Spain and Germany but considering their deep squad and the current form of their key players, the Danes have a very good chance of coming out of this battle triumphant, and once you are in the semi-final, anything is possible.
The Danes have fond memories from playing EHF EURO’s in the Balkans, having won it last time it was there, at the EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia. No Dane would mind a remake this year.
The 17 players selected by Denmark for the Men’s EHF EURO 2018
Goalkeepers: Niklas Landin (THW Kiel) Jannick Green (SC Magdeburg)
Left wings: Casper U. Mortensen (TSV Hannover Burgdorf) Magnus Landin (KIF Kolding Kobenhavn)
Left backs: Mikkel Hansen (Paris Saint-Germain Handball) Michael Damgaard (SC Magdeburg) Henrik Mollgaard (Paris Saint-Germain)
Centre backs: Rasmus Lauge (SG Flensburg-Handewitt) Mads Mensah Larsen (Rhein-Neckar Lowen) Morten Olsen (TSV Hannover Burgdorf)
Right backs: Niklas Kirkelokke (GOG) Peter Balling (TTH Holstebro)
Right wings: Lasse Svan (SG Flensburg-Handewitt) Hans Lindberg (Fuchse Berlin)
Line players: Henrik Toft Hansen (SG Flensburg-Handewitt) Rene Toft Hansen (THW Kiel) Anders Zachariassen (SG Flensburg-Handewitt)