Wolff: From a rocket start to eyeing Paris 2024 as a key leader for Germany

11 Mar. 2024

Wolff: From a rocket start to eyeing Paris 2024 as a key leader for Germany

The ‘Dream Big’ series focuses on the stories of elite handball players, from childhood or their discovery of the sport through to now. The IHF recognises the important part athletes play as role models for children and young people who dream of becoming professional handball players — or pursuing any goal. With that in mind, this series aims to bridge the gap children and young people may perceive and show them the diverse paths to the top. 

This instalment focuses on Germany and Kielce goalkeeper Andreas Wolff, who is one of three nominees for the 2023 IHF World Player of the Year — Men award. Wolff is the only one of the nominees contesting the Olympic Qualification Tournaments, where Germany aim to reach their ninth Olympic Games.  

Germany are one of 12 sides in the final battle for places at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, which will be decided at the Olympic Qualification Tournaments to be held from March 14 to 17. Goalkeeper Andreas Wolff will undoubtedly be an important part of Germany’s campaign in Tournament 2, taking place in Hanover, where they will meet Algeria, Austria and Croatia, with the two top-ranked teams at the end of the round-robin tournament clinching a place at Paris 2024. 

Wolff and Germany had a great start to 2024, reaching the semi-finals at the EHF EURO played on home turf — their first appearance in the top four at a major tournament since the 2019 World Championship. Wolff was named All-star Team goalkeeper of the EHF EURO for the second time in his career, one year after he nabbed the goalkeeper spot in the All-star Team at the 2023 World Championship. 

Germany have been evolving as a team for some years, and the side that played the EHF EURO 2024 was a young one. Several players who featured for Germany as they won the 2023 Junior World Championship were part of the senior team at the EURO, beginning their journeys on the biggest handball stage. 

“The team for sure has huge potential,” says Wolff, also looking back to the World Championship in 2023 where Germany placed fifth. “It's more or less a project based or focused on the future. We have almost no players that are closer to the end than to the beginning of their career, and therefore I think this team has still a huge way to go forward. But I think the last tournaments both showed, each on their own, some progress. 

“We have many great talents in Germany, and I really hope that with this team and these kinds of talents we can finally, after some years of not having the greatest success, develop a team that in the mid-term or maybe even the short-term is able to fight seriously for medals and be a seriously taken contender for tournament victories.”


At the upcoming OQTs, Germany target their ninth berth at the Olympic Games. They played the last two Olympics, after missing London 2012, taking the bronze medal at Rio 2016 and ranking sixth at Tokyo 2020. But many in the current squad will by vying for their first Olympic Games. 

Wolff expects tough competition at the OQTs, considering Croatia are always a top contender, Algeria’s position as a top team in Africa, and Austria’s superb EHF EURO 2024 campaign. Austria were partly responsible for eliminating four-time back-to-back EURO finalists Spain in the preliminary round, as they drew with both Spain and Croatia and took one of their group’s two main round places. The tournaments in January — the EHF EURO and the African Championship — are key informers of what Germany can expect from their OQT opponents. 

“Croatia are traditionally a really, really strong team. They had somehow their difficulties during this past tournament, in my opinion, due to their really unlucky history of injured players, especially one of their key players in [Ivan] Martinovic,” says Wolff, adding that although Martinovic will not be back, some important younger players have returned from injury, such as Luka Klarica. 

“They are accompanied by very experienced, world-class players like [Domagoj] Duvnjak, [Igor] Karacic, [Luka] Cindric. Therefore, I think this Croatian team has a great mix as well. Rising talents that show even in the Champions League. They have amazing goalkeepers, amazing talented goalkeepers, like [Matej] Mandic and [Dominik] Kuzmanovic, that showed a great tournament.  

“Austria, they played a fantastic tournament. I think nobody would have thought that they would come out of this group against Spain and Croatia, but they played phenomenally. They drew against us at the last tournament. I think this is a warning for us that we have to consider them a serious threat, and that we have to take them on the same as we do, for example, Croatia. 

“Algeria are traditionally a strong team from Africa. They are just second behind Egypt, and Egypt, for me, are one of the top teams in the world right now. Therefore, you have to give a huge amount of respect to Algeria, that they were fighting with them for a title. I think they will be no pushovers as well.” 

Right now, Wolff is looking ahead. Looking back at his national team career, Wolff played his first major tournament at the EHF EURO 2016 — and it really became his EURO; a tournament with which his performance will forever be linked as one of the core memories for anyone who witnessed it. 

Germany were struck by many injuries both before and during the EURO in 2016, so they could not be considered one of the favourites. But Wolff started saving and once he did he did not stop. With Wolff leading the charge, Germany powered to the final, although they had to overcome extra time against Norway in the semi-final to reach it — and that trophy match belonged to Wolff. In what was one of the most extraordinary displays ever seen in a handball goal, Wolff saved at a rate of 48% as Spain’s shooters crumbled. 

Germany took the title and went on to bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games later that year, but Wolff had a challenge in finding consistency in his game, as that incredibly high level achieved at the EURO was difficult to replicate on an ongoing basis. 

“The first tournament was really something special and it was basically the kick-off for my career on an international level. But at the same time, of course it grew some expectations from me, from others, that were difficult to fulfil. I think if you have huge potential or people mark you as someone highly talented, they expect big things from you. When you're young, it’s unfortunately difficult to perform every tournament, every match on this level, especially when you have such a rocket start,” says Wolff, examining the journey from those early days in the national team to now, where he has found his way to performing at a consistent level and handling any pressure well. 

“After some years that had their up and downs, under [coach] Alfred Gislason we finally managed to maintain a certain stability in the team and especially for me. I think the adding of Mattias Andersson as a goalkeeper coach was a plus, because I always can rely on him during our time with the national team, and even outside of that, to give me a helping hand, to help me improve. And therefore, I think those are the two main factors so that it’s working so well for me, the national team, right now. Of course, I hope that we will continue to rise.” 

The spread of All-star Team nods at the EURO, with one in 2016 and one in 2024, is symbolic — a sort of bookending of his national team career journey so far, from that rocket start to settling into a consistent role to being comfortable enough in that consistent role to deliver at his very highest level on an ongoing basis. And what about the beginning — his first callup to the national team? 

“It meant a lot. I remember the first time our goalkeeper coach called me and said, Andi, you will be part of the national team for your first time. I was really proud. I was really nervous because, of course, it was something that I’d always dreamed of and suddenly it’s sure to become true. 

“In 2015, I played a really good series in the Bundesliga, and had also some good games in the national teams and therefore I had high hopes that I can participate in my basically first tournament as a player and not just a spectator. Dagur [Sigurdsson] gave me this chance. I was really, really nervous before this tournament because of course I wanted to show myself worthy of this spot in the national team. It’s a similar situation like David Späth right now,” says Wolff.

“He was with the national team once and he’s not willing to give up his spot ever again. That’s basically the same that I felt as well back then, of course especially after this tournament. I really felt like I had a huge, huge possibility to shape the goalkeeper position in the German national team. I still am really grateful, really proud, to represent Germany in those tournaments because we have many great goalkeepers, many great talents. With each year, there are more promising goalkeepers rising up.

“That I still am part of this team, it still fills me with a lot of pride. I hope that there are many years still to come for me.”

Going back even further, Wolff shares what his start in handball was like. It all began being a nuisance at his father’s matches, playing on the sidelines and interrupting the games enough that his parents finally decided he should try properly playing the sport.  

“I cannot pinpoint an exact age to be honest, but it was around like three to five years. My father played handball, on an amateur level, but he played handball and we were always accompanying him to his games. We were playing on the side of the court during his games, which often led to an outburst from our father’s side, for me and my brother to please stop interrupting,” laughs Wolff. 

“At one point, my parents said, if you like to play around with this ball that much we can as well give it a shot and make you play with others. The first time I went to training, I was really, really shy. I was even kind of afraid to speak to others, to play with them, because for me it looked like already a group and they were all playing together. Everybody knew or seemed like they knew what they were doing. My first training, my mother accompanied me. I didn’t even have the courage to enter the court at first, so the coach there said, if you are too shy to try to play with others, maybe go in goal. And after this training, I’ve never given up this position. I think I found my destiny there.”

Wolff certainly found his destiny between those goalposts. Although he has achieved plenty and hopes for more to come, he sees enjoyment of the game as very important, and that is the main piece of advice he would offer to young people playing handball.  

“You should be aware that the most important thing in playing handball, especially as a young person, is having fun. Of course, you have your goals, you have your ambitions, but this should never stand in your way of having fun and enjoying the game. Even nowadays, sometimes I speak to colleagues, and they’re like, ah it’s training or something. I’m just happy that I’m able to do what I already did as a child professionally and just enjoy playing handball,” says Wolff. 

“The best for your career is when you like what you’re doing, so as a young person you shouldn’t think too much about what your goals are — of course, you have to envision them and follow your dreams. But at the same time, you shouldn’t feel pressure. Just focus on the joy of the game because handball is a great game, with great emotions, and you should just connect it positively.”