The dressing room was mouse-quiet as team captain Ales Bajović said his last words before heading through the catacombs to hug his teammates. And the words couldn't have been more fitting. “We are fighting from the first minute to the last minute. I think we have a better team spirit in this European Championship, I don't know. Gemma Jungs!” Austria entered handball's biggest arena in Cologne in front of 20,000 spectators. A heroic group around captain Mikola Bilic managed to earn a point despite handball's great power, Germany, where the Champions League winners were crowned. “We are writing the history of Austrian handball and doing it with fun,” said Bilic. “Based on our performance, we should have won. But we are happy to take the point with us.
The game started with the ball for Germany and the hall was incredibly loud. It was a cauldron and Austria were awake behind the curtain from the first second. First-time saves from Austria's Constantin Mastel and his teammate Andreas Wolff sparked jubilation – both battling at the highest level in the 40-metre space. The Germans in particular seemed a little hesitant about the contracts. “Constantin played a fantastic game, he drove us to despair,” Wolff said.
In attack, Bajovic relied on his usual lineup with Bilic and Lukas Hudcek. They led intelligently and measured speed (if necessary) to enter a standing attack. Germany coach Alfred Kieslason was nervous and the Icelanders (three-time Champions League winners) called time-out in the 16th minute. It didn't help, on the contrary: Austria confidently extended their lead to four goals (23rd). Germany battled back with strong fans behind them to cut the lead to 11:12 at the break. Mostel was treated in the dressing room after the collision at the bar.
The 23-year-old Hart goalkeeper continued to play as if nothing had happened and his forwards worked hard in every attack, fighting for every little gap in the middle block. Austria showed heart and character and played with the self-image and bravado of a medalist. The team was also effective defensively, switching and distributing to the opposition. They had to struggle, risk poor throws and fail again and again.
Pajovič repeatedly brought an extra fielder to the floor, a tactic that worked many times at the European Championship. Four throws gave the Germans momentum again. The lead was tenuous as Austria stopped scoring in the 50th minute. Christoph Steinert equalized 51 seconds earlier at 22:22. With the final siren, Sebastian Heymann fired the last ball of the game over Mostel's goal: “It's a lost point, but it's still good. We're fully in contention for the semi-finals.”