Juri Knorr is the most important field player of the German national handball team. One who doesn't spare himself. Someone who likes to take responsibility and puts himself in the wind. At the World Cup, it's up to him.
Only at the very end of a long handball afternoon did Juri Knorr still despair: "It can't be done," exclaimed the playmaker of the German national handball team in Hanover. The 22-year-old had a pen in his hand, no ball and he was no longer faced by the many-armed Icelandic defence, but by a much denser wall of arms from fans fighting for Knorr's autograph. And Knorr wrote and wrote and wrote. In between, he faced the journalists who wanted to question Germany's probably most important field player at the moment, then he returned to the wall of fans. And kept writing. Keep going.
Before that, Juri Knorr, on whom Germany's handball hopes lie at the World Cup, which starts in a few days, stirred up the Icelanders properly. The director threw 13 goals at 33:31 (19:14), kept finding his pivots and shortly before the end of the first half had a private feud with Iceland goalkeeper Björvin Pall Gustavsson. Under pressure, the German threw the ball in the Icelander's face from close range, and Gustavsson barely got the ball afterwards. The man from the Rhein-Neckar Löwen didn't let himself be unsettled, although the fierce Gustavsson first followed him to the halfway line and in the following minutes persistently fixed him with words and looks.
Knorr remained stoic, sunk shot after shot - and later clarified the situation with great maturity. "He insulted me once or twice. That's why I was angry at first, if you can put it that way," explained Knorr. "We clarified that in a quiet conversation at half-time and now everything is fine. In handball it's the way that emotions sometimes boil up and I'm sometimes there too. That's part of it and it's fun."
The wild minutes in Hanover are also a symbol: Knorr is not deterred when it gets smoky. He had missed the chaos EM 2022 because he did not want to be vaccinated. He endured the discussions, including the hostilities. "Of course, a lot was written about me during this time regarding the big topic of Corona and of course that didn't leave me untouched. Then of course there was the difficult phase with the lions and for me personally there was of course a completely new environment. It a lot of things just came together," explained Knorr at a media event in April. "It wasn't easy for me either - the season in general with difficult phases for me and it wasn't easy off the handball field either."
It's over. He can play at the World Cup. The regulations require a vaccination or the recovered status: "I've been in contact with the DHB for a long time, we have our agreements and everyone knows about it. If I should be in the final World Cup squad, that speaks for itself and then I should have met all the criteria accordingly," said Knorr on Sky.
Knorr was already in focus on Saturday, the German team had dominated the first part of the double test for a long time - and then lost despite a six-goal lead in the meantime. "He makes a huge game," said national coach Alfred Gislason, "but only for 40 minutes." Then, as Gislason said very openly, "a great many technical mistakes, unbelievably expensive mistakes" led to the German team losing 30:31. In the preparation it's very annoying, in a tournament it gets expensive. Captain Johannes Golla sees the biggest construction site before the start of the tournament as "keeping calm in the phases in which we get out of step, having a plan of how we want to act and staying calm." Of course, it is also an unspoken order for one's own playmaker.
A lot depends on Knorr in this team, which has always had its moments for years, but ultimately develops far too little penetrating power, especially in the decisive games. The solid deputy Luca Witzke lacks Knorr's goal threat, Philipp Weber, who built up the German game in previous tournaments, is more a shooter than a director and only plays in the middle in exceptional cases at champions Magdeburg. In Hanover, the meritorious weaver only had a few, rather unfortunate situations.
With Juri Knorr, who switched to FC Barcelona early on and was trained there in his youth before he took the path to the Rhein-Neckar Löwen via GWD Minden and completed his training under Andy Schmid, you can finally see each other again at the DHB be happy about a playmaker with whom one could reduce the gap to the top nations. And maybe at the latest at the home EM 2024 to be able to play seriously again for medals.
Even if not everything went well in the final friendly against Iceland, Knorr delivered a convincing reaction to a kick-off. The boy was still scolded on the morning of the game, said national coach Gislason after the game. Now the Icelander was satisfied: "It was very good how he came back after the criticism."
In the second game within 24 hours, the playmaker presented himself almost continuously as a director of World Cup format. "Enough has been said about the fact that there were too many mistakes yesterday in the decisive phase," said Golla, looking at his playmaker. "But he's also taking on a lot of responsibility, playing in the middle again for more than 60 minutes today. He steers our game and makes the right decisions over long stretches. We need him in exactly this form if we want to play successfully." The German team needs Knorr's goals, his dynamism and his playfulness. A package that no German middleman has brought with him for many years.
After disappointing years, in which the DHB team had produced the worst placement in the association's long history in twelfth place in 2021, the European champion of 2016 is no longer on the list internationally. "Personally, I think it will be the usual thing with Denmark, Sweden, Spain and France - and then I believe in our Icelandic friends," Denmark's world-class player Mathias Gidsel recently told Mathias Gidsel, adding: "So keep a close eye on Iceland - but also us." Germany is no longer mentioned.
But as a handball player you face impossible tasks. From Friday at the World Cup in Poland there are initially manageable tasks waiting: With Qatar, Serbia and Algeria they have caught an interesting but solvable group. Even in a possible main round, the way to the knockout round would be paved. He will then have to prove whether Knorr, whose father Thomas himself played 83 times for Germany, is already a director of crunchtime format if it could go against the French or the Spaniards in the quarter-finals. "It's also nice that something is expected of me," says Knorr himself. "I want to play a bigger role." It remains to be seen what the German team can do in Poland (and depending on how the tournament goes in the medal games in Sweden) and what not. In any case, in Hanover nobody went home without an autograph.