Substitution of a goalkeeper for a seventh outfield player during a suspension was already a widespread tactic, but prior to July 1, 2016, the player replacing the goalkeeper had to don a shirt the same colour as that of the goalkeeper jersey. Teams taking the high-risk approach therefore found it strenuous to change the outfield player replacing their goalkeeper.
Without that stand-in shirt, which is no longer mandatory, it is significantly easier to replace the goalkeeper – and all 16 teams participating in the EHF EURO took the high-risk approach of substituting their goalkeeper at least once, in favour of having one more player in attack.
The high-risk seven-on-six approach
There were nine goals scored by goalkeepers in the first 40 games of the EHF EURO 2018, with Spain’s Gonzalo Perez de Vargas topping the list with two. The 27-year-old goalkeeper is used to seeing his name on the board, as he has already scored three times in the VELUX EHF Champions League while playing for FC Barcelona.
Goalkeepers Andreas Wolff, Andreas Palicka and Vincent Gerard also scored once during the EHF EURO 2018.
France, Sweden, Denmark, Croatia and FYR Macedonia were the teams that were more eager to replace their goalkeeper with an outfield player to gain a seven-on-six advantage during attack, with the latter two sides using this tactic for significant portions of their games.
It is a high-risk viewpoint, as both Croatia and FYR Macedonia were punished by France and Germany, respectively, as they provided open-goal opportunities that were quickly converted. On the other hand, Croatia managed to win their preliminary round match against Iceland thanks to a 5:0 partial opened through the use of this tactic in the first minutes of the second half.
“It really is something we are training for and I think it brings a whole other dimension to our play. Our coach [Lino Cervar] does it also in his club team, Metalurg Skopje, so I think it is less of a surprise that we use it, but it helps us surprise our opponents,” said Croatia right back Luka Stepancic.
Sprints for goalkeepers
The outlook of the game changed significantly with the amended rule, as suspensions are now easier to overcome than they were in the past.
“We are usually replacing the goalkeeper when we have a suspension, or we use the seven-versus-six approach and there are a lot of player changes. It is something that we need to get used to,” said Sweden goalkeeper Mikael Appelgren. “Personally, I am trying to score more, I practice my shot more. You have to take advantage of an open goal. Before there was always a goalkeeper. Now, the possibilities are higher.”
But there is also a downside to this tactic – make a mistake and the opponent could score in the open goal, if the goalkeeper is not fast enough to return between the posts and stop the shot.
“We try to do some sprints every now and then, [but] it's hard to have them in the season” said Appelgren. “Sometimes, when you come and save the ball, it is fun, but otherwise no, it is more difficult for us. We need to be quick and on point every time.”
FYR Macedonia enjoyed a great start against Germany when they took the goalkeeper out for the entire first half, but a time-out from coach Christian Prokop enabled him to tweak the defence and the EHF EURO 2016 winners eased back into the game, erasing a three-goal deficit.
Court player saves become viral
As the new rule settles in, one and a half years after being implemented, teams and court players are becoming more and more familiar with how to play it – and fans are treated to plays that will remain instilled in their memories for years.
While France took advantage of Croatia’s high-risk approach and scored five goals in the open goal to help their victory, which knocked the hosts out of the title race on Wednesday night, the reverse side of the coin is that court players can easily become goalkeepers. That is the case for German duo Patrick Groetzki and Rune Dahmke, who made two of the best saves of the tournament.
In the main round game Germany lost against Denmark, Kiel left wing Dahmke stopped a ball that was heading into the goal mid-air. The play became a viral video, with the YouTube clip viewed by over 330,000 fans in only two days.
“I wanted to run to the bench to change with our goalkeeper, but I recognised that the Danes were just about to throw, so I started running to our goal and got the ball,” said Dahmke, whose move earned him a comparison with Superman from his former Germany teammate Dominik Klein.