Veszprem takes on Kiel (Which Screen Do You Prefer?)

Ljubomir Vranjes was the head coach at Flensburg for 7 years and earlier today headed back to Germany with his new team Veszprem for a key Champions League showdown with Flensburg’s former rival Kiel.

What screen do you get when you click on the link to watch?: Link


If you prefer the 1st screen click here: Nord VPN.

I can’t guarantee you that Nord VPN will solve all your handball viewing problems, but I will unequivocally state, that I am personally a very, very happy camper with my Nord VPN subscription.  With a free trial and plans starting as low as $3.29/month you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

IHF Trophy Competitions to be Hosted by USA

2017 Pan American IHF Trophy Champs. The U.S. will get to host a Zone Tournament as they seek to re-claim the title in 2019.

The IHF has awarded hosting rights to the U.S. for both Youth and Jr IHF Trophy Competitions.  The tourneys will be staged simultaneously at the new Lifezone Team Handball Academy in West Dundee, Illinois from 7-13 May.   The Lifezone Team Handball Academy is the first handball program/facility devoted primarily to youth development in the U.S.

The IHF Trophy Competitions were established by the IHF to provide developing handball nations competitive matches in a formal setting.  The U.S. has been competitive in these tournaments, particularly on the Men’s side having won both the North American region and this past spring the Pan American title.

For the 2018-2019 cycle the IHF has expanded the program to include both “Youth” and “Jr” competitions.  The Jr competition will be limited to athletes 21 or younger (born in 1998) or later, while the Youth competition will be limited to athletes 19 or younger (born in 2000) or later.  (The age requirements are intended to match the 2nd year of the competition (2019))

The zones for the competition have also changed with the U.S. now competing vs Canada, Martinique, Barbados, Dominica, Barbados and Haiti.  Based on past tournament performance the pre-tournament favorites are the U.S., Canada and Martinique as the remaining nations are relative newcomers to the sport.

The other North American Zone includes Mexico, Puerto Rico and additional Caribbean nations.  There are also 2 South American zones and a definitive qualification format has yet to be announced.  Because of the proposed split to the Pan-American Region it’s possible that the North America and South America regions will have separate championships.  If that’s the case it’s possible that 2 nations from each of the North American Zones will advance to a continental championship with the winner of that tournament advancing to the Inter-Continental Championship.

The U.S. has several players from previous campaigns that will be available, but will need to find some replacements for several athletes on the Jr team that have aged out.  Tryouts are scheduled for San Francisco, Auburn and the Chicago area.  Athletes that can’t make the scheduled tryouts, including dual citizens living abroad, can also apply to participate.  More information is available at the USA Team Handball website.

The location of these tournaments at the Lifezone Team Handball Academy in West Dundee, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) provides a great marketing and showcase opportunity for this new program.  Great credit for putting together a winning bid in a short period of time goes to the Academy’s Director, Craig Rot.

  • More information on the Lifezone Team Handball Academy: Link
  • USA Team Handball Announcement: Link
  • IHF Information on the IHF Trophy: Link

Podcast (Episode 29) New Zealand Handball Debuts at the Asian Championships

New Zealand Men’s National Team performing the traditional Haka before a match at the Asian Championships.

Earlier this month the New Zealand Men’s team played in their first major handball tournament, the 2018 Asian Men’s Championship.  Joining me to talk about handball in New Zealand was one of the team captains, Karl Fitzpatrick, and the team’s leading goal scorer, Aston Lang.

We discuss their performance at the tournament, how handball is organized in New Zealand, how they felt about playing in Asia (vice Oceania), and, of course, the Haka.  The interview took place prior to their final match vs Bangladesh, so if you want to check out how they did in this final effort the video is available below as are a couple of links to topics that were discussed.

  • New Zealand Handball Federation Website: Link
  • New Zealand Handball Federation on Facebook: Link
  • Asian Handball Championships (Wikipedia):  Link
  • Podcast on Aarhus Academy (The Handball Academy Aston attended): Link
  • Haka (Wikipedia): Link
  • Video (Full Match) (13th Place Match) New Zealand vs Bangladesh: Link
    – Fitzpatrick is #8; Lang is #24
    – The Haka can be viewed at the 5:00 minute mark
  • Video (Highlights) (13th Place Match) New Zealand vs Bangladesh: Link

This podcast episode was brought to you by Nord VPN.

Well, the European Men’s Championships were truly a tour de force for handball fans with every match readily available live and on demand.   It was truly awesome to see a couple of great handball matches almost every day for 16 days, but alas, it’s over.  Fortunately, as I discussed with ehfTV’s Tom O’Brannigan there’s more handball to watch through May with the EHF Champions League starting back up.  And, in my opinion, it’s actually the best handball in the world to watch on a regular basis.

And, the Champions league starts back up with a bang on Tuesday, 7 February, with Kiel playing hosting to Veszprem.  Will that big match up be readily available for viewing or will it be geoblocked for mysterious unknown reasons?

Honestly, I can’t say and honestly I just don’t worry about that much anymore…

And, while I can’t guarantee you that Nord VPN will solve all your handball viewing problems I will unequivocally state, that I am personally a very, very happy camper with my Nord VPN subscription.  With a free trial and plans starting as low as $3.29/month you really owe it to yourself to check it out.


If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

The PHF Split:  Key Aspects Meriting Further Analysis

The IHF President and PHF President shake hands in a happier moment.

Much of what has been released in the dueling official statements (PHF and IHF) is fairly straight forward, but some aspects are not so clear cut.  Some claims, to varying degrees are a bit misleading and some aspects merit further discussion and analysis.  The analysis presented here is a mix of rumor, intuition and feedback I’ve received from people in the world handball community.

Olympic Handball in Jeopardy?

In the IHF Statement a passing reference is made to the Olympics:

“The IHF President’s development plan includes many projects which shall promote the development of the sport worldwide and in Pan-America. He undertakes large endeavours in many fields to develop handball not only to maintain its position on the Olympic programme but also to pave the way for development on all levels, including World Championships and Olympic Games.”

I added the bold face, and it sure merits additional discussion.  Why would the IHF even mention the need for handball to maintain its position on the Olympic Programme?  Handball no longer part of the Olympics?  That couldn’t possibly be?  Could it?  Well, apparently somebody must be occasionally discussing that possibility otherwise it’s hard to imagine the point being made.  Certainly, one could hardly imagine the World Federations for Basketball, Athletics or Swimming making such a point.

I’ve heard rumors of handball’s place in the Olympics being in danger, but it was only a few days ago that I saw this rumor in print for the first time.  As reported by handzone.net, the French Handball Technical Director, Philippe Bana went on record as having seen IOC reports indicating that the future of handball on the Olympic Program after 2024 is in jeopardy due to the sport being too European.  And, logically what better way might there be to counteract IOC concerns then to aggressively build up handball in America, especially with the U.S. hosting in 2028.  Certainly, I would assess that this IOC threat is at least a factor, if not the biggest factor, behind this initiative.

$1,000,000 from Qatar Airways

Mentioned in both statements is the accounting for $1,000,000 in sponsorship from Qatar Airways.  The IHF letter claims that this sponsorship was obtained with the assistance of the IHF and that it’s not clear how this funding was used.  With the nation of Qatar being closely tied to the IHF for the past several years it’s certainly logical to assume that assistance from the IHF was pretty critical to securing this sponsorship.  Certainly, one might have a difficult time of rationalizing why the airline with only 3 flights to and from North and South America would seek a $1M sponsorship with a relatively minor sport if their footprint was so small in that region.  But, technically the relationship is between Qatar Airways and the PHF, so one could argue that the IHF doesn’t have any say at all in how that $1M has been sent.  On the other hand, having spoken with different handball people throughout North America, no one has volunteered as to how a portion of that $1M has been spent in their country.

PHF Nations are Unified Against the Process the IHF has Used; Less so Against the Concept of Splitting

The PHF in its official statement likes to point out how the PHF nations are standing together against IHF’s proposed splitting of the PHF Federation.  They point to the vote tally at the PHF Extraordinary Congress (25 against, 1 abstention) and at the IHF Congress (reportedly only Mexico and Costa Rica voted in favor of letting the IHF Council decide the matter.)

However, it’s been brought to my attention that at least some of the nations were primarily voting in opposition to “the process” that the IHF was using to impose the splitting of federations.  And, that to varying degrees several nations were open to “the concept” of splitting.

From my own perspective this position makes quite a bit of sense.  As, I elaborated on in this earlier commentary there are a lot of good reasons for splitting a federation that almost stretches from pole to pole.  Travel costs will decrease and done properly it will foster growth and development.  I think most nations when they review the pros and cons would likely come to the same conclusion.

But, should such a split be imposed from above?  Without constructive dialogue on how to go about in an orderly fashion?  In principle, I’m not on board with that.  It’s kind of like the UN telling a nation it would be better if the split in two.  The natural inclination is for a federation (or nation) to say, “Thanks for the suggestion.  We’ll take care of that on our own.”

Then again, it’s not clear as to whether this topic was ever proposed informally by the IHF and then summarily shot down by the PHF leadership without taking it to the PHF nations.  That the idea was dead on arrival, even if some nations might warm to the idea, especially if it came with resources.

An Olympic Slot for Both the North and the South?

There are a lot of aspects to a proposed splitting of the PHF Federation, but a bottom line factor of the split that could sway nations one way or the other will be the World Championships and Olympic qualification slots that would be offered to each federation.  The original proposal outlined last summer simply divvied up the slots that the PHF currently has.  I bemoaned a bit the North getting shortchanged, but now I’m hearing rumors of both the North and the South getting an Olympic slot.  That would certainly be a response to IOC threats to show progress with efforts de-Europeanize the sport.  Further, if its own Olympic slot is part of the deal you can bet the North nations will very quickly warm up to a split even if they aren’t fans of the process that has been used.

Is There a Personality Clash with the Two Presidents?

I’ve also heard rumors from multiple sources indicating that the IHF President (Hassan Moustafa) and the PHF President (Mario Moccia) simply have had a falling out.   These two articles at Super Handball (link 1, link 2) elaborate on that relationship, noting that some have speculated that Moccia is gunning for the IHF President job and that the split is a way of getting back and decreasing his influence.  Indeed, as the PHF notes in their Official Statement the split has the effect of removing a VP slot from Pan America on the Executive Council.  Instead the newly split federations will each have a “representative” on the Council.

Way Ahead Still Murky; Tournaments in Jeopardy

With the way ahead still murky some planned PHF tournaments are in real jeopardy.  These tournaments include the PHF Beach Handball Championship (Men and Women), scheduled for March in Oceanside, CA; a Men’s North American & Caribbean Championship (location TBD), and even the Men’s Pan American Championships, scheduled for June in Greenland.  It’s possible that these tournaments will still be staged under the auspices of the IHF, but that is still TBD.  If I get any definitive information I will post it as soon as I hear about it.

Podcast (Episode 28):  Euro 2018 Talk with Tom O’Brannigan

ehfTV’s Tom O’Brannigan joins me on the podcast to talk about the 2018 European Championships.  It’s tangents galore as we discuss the controversy around officials reviewing TV replays, red cards on facial contact, the Duvnjak injury, the merits of club vs national team competition, and what makes Nikola Karabatic the GOAT.

Sascha Staat’s commentary on the Duvnjak injury: Link


If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

IHF Council Splits Pan America into Two Federations; Tells PHF to Cease Operations

The PHF and IHF fire off dueling Official Statements in an escalating war of words.

The International Handball Federation (IHF) has gone forward with plans to split the Pan-American Handball Federation (PHF).  According to official statements released by both the PHF and IHF, the IHF Council meeting in Zagreb this past Sunday (January 14) voted to split the Pan American region into 2 separate Continental Federations.  Following the meeting the IHF then sent a letter to the PHF informing them of the split and telling them to cease operations.

A Pair of Official Statements Takes Each Side to Task

The PHF then issued a fiery official statement on Thursday taking IHF President Hassan Moustafa to task for attempting to destroy Pan American Handball.  Not to be outdone the IHF fired back on Friday with a statement of their own outlining how the PHF has failed to develop handball in Pan America and why the IHF is justified in its actions.

PHF Official Statement (18 January 2018): Link
IHF Official Statement (19 January 2018): Link

Legal Maneuvering

Both the PHF and IHF outline some of the “legal” aspects that support their side.  The PHF highlights notes that “the uprecedented forced division of our continental federation violates democratic and self-governance principles expressed in the very IHF statutes, as well as Swiss Law, where IHF is located.”  The PHF also notes that the PHF rejected the proposed split in a near unanimous vote at an PHF Extraordinary Congress this past October and that the IHF vote at the IHF Congress in November had only 60% (less than a 2/3 majority) vote in favor of a motion to let the IHF Council address the split issue.  Further, the PHF notes that the IHF Arbitration Commission has failed to respond in a timely manner to an appeal that was filed on November 11, 2017.  The final parting shot from the PHF:

“PATHF will seek all legal paths available to stop this outrage from Moustafa and to defend the integrity of worldwide handball from those forces from the past that make lack of transparency and manipulation their only sport.”

As one might expect the IHF takes issue with the PHF legal position.  In particular, the IHF has a different vote tally for the IHF Congressional vote (68%) based on fewer abstentions.  And, they take the PHF to task for holding the October Extraordinary PHF Congress without inviting the IHF President in violation of the IHF statutes.  Indeed, the PHF violation was submitted to the IHF Arbitration Commission for their review and recommendation to the IHF Council and Executive Committee, and this violation was the precedence used to suspend the PHF.

Repercussions:  Tournaments in Jeopardy?

The action by the IHF to immediately suspend PHF operations puts into doubt several major tournaments scheduled to take place later this year including the Men’s and Women’s Pan American Beach Handball Championships scheduled for March in Oceanside, California, the Men’s North American & Caribbean Championships (Location TBD) and the Men’s Handball Championships scheduled for June in Greenland.  As these events are qualifiers for the World Championships the IHF has indicated that they will assume organization responsibilities, but such a role in the midst of legal wrangling over splitting the PHF could be complicated.

Also, apparently lacking due to the conflict between the PHF and IHF is any orderly transition plan to go from one functioning Federation to two new Federations.  Such a transition would be somewhat complicated under ideal circumstances, but under the current situation is really difficult to plan for.  This is particularly true when you consider that many nations are caught in the uncomfortable position of choosing sides while legal aspects of the proposed split are unsettled.

Way Ahead

With the PHF indicating that they will be seeking all legal path available it seems likely that this conflict will eventually find its way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).  CAS is an independent body that handles sport related disputes.  When and how the case is settled is an open question.

In the meantime, we should expect some formal announcements as to how the upcoming PHF competitions scheduled this year will be organized, in the near future

Previous Team Handball News Commentaries Regarding the Proposed Split

  • The IHF Proposes a Pan-American Split (Part 1): The Pros and Cons: Link
  • The IHF Proposes a Pan-American Split (Part 2): The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal and a High Stakes Vote in Turkey: Link

Recent Articles on Other Sites Regarding the Split Controversy

  • Super Handball (Argentina): Link
  • Inside the Games: Link
  • Clarin (Argentina): Link

The recriminations from both sides and the elements to this proposed split warrant further analysis.  I am working on a commentary that I will publish in the near future.

Move Over Simonet, Sigurdsson is the New ESPN Sports Center Top 10 Handball King

Sigurdsson with the punch in goal vs Serbia

Last September, Montpellier’s Diego Simonet made the ESPN Sports Center Top 10 plays of the day with a nifty goal in a Champions League match vs Metalurg.  To date his goal has gotten 1.2M views on Instagram.  A nice viewership to be sure, but he’s now been eclipsed by Iceland’s Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson who’s only needed 21 hours to get 1.6M views for his 2nd chance punch in goal following a penalty shot vs Serbia at the European Championships.

Much like Simonet, Sigurdsson’s efforts has received thousands of comments along the lines of “what’s that sport”, “Is that something a PE teacher made up”, and “this should be on the Ocho” (A Dodgeball movie reference that poked fun at ESPN’s expanding family of networks).

I’m a little tired of beating the dead horse into a pulp, but what the heck, why not?  The lack of awareness the sport has in this problem isn’t just one problem among many the sport faces in this country.

IT IS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM.

Fix this problem and all other problems will become easier to solve.  Nothing demonstrates this more than the thousands of comments that accompany this video.

To the EHF’s great credit every match of the ongoing Men’s European Championships are available for viewing, both live and on demand.  Further, they are high quality web streams with English language commentary.  For the dedicated handball fan it is truly a phenomenally great deal.  And, it’s 100% free.  How could I possibly complain?

Well, because the EHF and others don’t need to convince me and the other 300 or so super fans of the sport in the U.S.  They need to be laser focused on finding a way to turn that 300 into 3,000, then 30,000, then 300,000.  Seriously, 300 fans in the world’s biggest market?  How can that possibly be?  It’s a mind boggling small number for such a great sport.  And, nothing could fix that faster than decent TV exposure.

The Need to Find the Right TV Network Partner?

While a free video stream is pretty cool, potential new fans aren’t likely to accidentally type in www.ehfTV.com and get converted.  The way people watch sports is evolving, but TV is still king in 2018.  A good TV network partner can lead the potential new fan to the sport.  ESPN gave handball a freebie with exposure on its flagship show, Sports Center, but I doubt they also gave everyone a heads up on where to watch online.  (For sure they took down my post with a link to ehfTV.)  But, they sure would have if the matches were shown on one of their networks or even their online platform.  And, there likely would be more than just the occasional spectacular goal making the top 10.

For too long, not enough effort has been given by the EHF, IHF and others to find the right network.  Getting on TV in the U.S. was seen as something nice if it happened, but of minor importance.  And, then it seemed that any network would do.  How else to explain beIN Sports US, which currently has the U.S. TV rights for most of the major handball properties, but chooses not to broadcast on TV anymore.

There are, however, signs of change on the horizon.  The IHF has a new contract for the World Championships with MP&Silva so a new network could be showing that event next January.  And, the EHF is in the process of reviewing 4 bids for a mega ten year contract from 2020-2030.  I’ve been told that the U.S. market development is a big part of this review, so I’ve got some cautious optimism for the future.

Or, Maybe a TV Partner isn’t Needed?

But, then again while TV is king, maybe it won’t be much longer.  The way people watch sports is evolving at a pretty fast pace.  I, for one am pretty happy with ehfTV.  The NBC OTT platform in the 2016 Olympics was seriously awesome too.  All of the major networks have OTT platforms and reportedly ESPN is upgrading their platform to address the drop in traditional cable TV viewers.  Maybe the partner won’t be a TV partner, but a digital streaming partner.

And, maybe you don’t even need a partner?  Perhaps with the right marketing campaign a dedicated handball online streaming platform could take off its own.  Seriously, my daughters watch “Youtubers” that make millions of dollars a year.  How are those less than awesome videos discovered?  Could a combination of social media and advertisement create a stand alone platform for the word’s handball community.

The Deadest Weekend of the Year:  Couldn’t Handball Replace Ice Fishing?

In the U.S., the NFL is king and there is a 2 week gap between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl.  The weekend between those 2 events is sometimes called the deadest sports weekend of the year.  Everyone is waiting for the big game and they’re not quite ready to shift their attention to basketball.  And, often that deadest weekend coincides with either the European Championship or World Championship Final.  One might think this would be an opportunity, but sadly it hasn’t in years past.  In 2012, I did this review of what was on every available sports channel in the U.S.  Yes, depressingly the NBC Sports Network had an Ice Fishing showing on.  Ice Fishing! And, yes I’ve actually been ice fishing.  Boring to do. Mind boggling boring to watch.

Here’s hoping that next year around this time we’ll be celebrating a World Championship Final on a major U.S. Network.  It has to happen sooner or later.  I suggest sooner is the better option.

2018 Men’s Asian Handball Championships (Where to Watch)

The 2018 Men’s Asian Handball Championships will start tomorrow (Thursday, 18 January) and conclude on Sunday, 28 January.  The tournament will take place in Suwon, South Korea with 14 nations vying for 3 spots in the 2019 World Championships.  New to the competition will be Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh and it will be interesting to see how they fare.

Also of interest will be clashes between nations that to varying degrees are in some form of political conflict.  The Qatar – Saudi Arabia border has been closed for several months and those two nations will play on Saturday.  Iran has also reportedly been supporting rebel factions in Yemen so a handball clash with some of the Arab nations supporting the government might possibly prove contentious.

Key Links for Following and Hopefully Watching the Competition

A Korean contact has forwarded several links where video should be available.

  • Korean Federation Facebook Site: Link
  • Korean Federation Youtube Site:  Link
  • Naver Video:  Link (sometimes with on demand feeds)

Note:  Online automatic translation often doesn’t translate Korean fully.  I will update and add direct links to videos as they become available.

General Information Sites

  • Asian Handball Federation Website:  Link
  • Wikipedia Page:  Link

Inaugural Team Handball News Collegiate Top 5 Poll (Jan 2018)

The first ever “Team Handball News Collegiate Top 5 Poll” is out and to no one’s surprise Army (West Point) is the unanimous 1st place pick by all 9 voters.  In fact, having won 11 straight national titles it’s a pretty safe bet that they would have had been ranked #1 consistently since 2006 (when they lost to North Carolina) if the poll had been in existence.  Army is 2-0-0 in collegiate matches with wins over Air Force (26-22) and Virginia (20-16).  Overall, they’ve compiled a less impressive 5-0-6 record, but those 6 losses were to clubs either ranked in the Top 5 (Open Poll including non-collegiate clubs) or teams from Canada.  Army is also currently in 2nd place in the Northeast Team Handball League.

Ranked 2nd is Air Force, which as previously mentioned had a 4 goal loss to arch rival Army and has an overall 2-4 record.  In December they placed 4th at the Texas Cup in Dallas with respectable losses to Chicago Inter and SF Cal Heat.  Nipping at Air Force’s heels is Virginia, which has a 3-0-0 collegiate record with victories over James Madison (29-12), Army’s 2nd Team (22-21) and Carolina’s 2nd Team (25-10) to go along with their loss to top ranked Army.  Virginia’s overall record is 4-1-4 and they were the top placing collegiate team (3rd) at the Fall Tar Heel Tourney.

In 4th place is Illinois St which is 4-0-0 in collegiate play with victories over Cincinnati (17-16), Ohio St (17-16), Miami (OH) 26-21, and Ohio St’s 2nd Team (19-14).  Overall, though they are 4-0-4 and suffered heavy losses to Chicago Inter and Barrington, a team actually mostly composed of high schoolers.  Rounding out the top 5 is Ohio St which with a 5-0-4 mark has played the most collegiate games.  They won their own tournament, the Buckeye Fall Classic, but had a less than stellar performance at Miami (OH) Red Hawk Tourney.

USA Club (Match Results):  Link
USA Club (Ranking and Statistical Data): Link

Team Handball News Collegiate Poll Sponsorship

Bryan Cothorn will continue to organize all the statistical data and tabulate the poll votes, but after some minor wrangling I’ve convinced him to let Team Handball News sponsor the Collegiate Ranking.  Bryan will also be doing polls for the Men’s and Women’s clubs, but I’m choosing to take a special interest in the college poll and the college game in general.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, for college sports there’s quite a bit of tradition when it comes to polling.  With hundreds of colleges playing sports in a hodge podge patchwork of conferences nationwide a national poll, for better or worse, has often been the only way to gage where teams stand.  Indeed, for college football it was actually how the National Champion was determined until 1998. (An absolutely ridiculous method that has now been partially fixed) Polls are a college tradition and I’m glad to see that team handball is joining the pantheon of college sports with its very own poll.

The other reason is that I think the college game should get more attention in emphasis than it does currently in this country.  I highlighted some of the issues surrounding the college game in these commentaries.

CHARTING A WAY FORWARD FOR USA TEAM HANDBALL: OPTION 4:  UPGRADE AND EXPAND COLLEGIATE TEAM HANDBALL
Part 1: Background: Link
Part 2: Strategies to Implement: Link

In the coming weeks I’ll be following up with some additional thoughts on ways to improve the quality of play and provide greater publicity/exposure to the college game.

2018 European Championships Odds, Analysis and Notes

France vs Norway:  A rematch of the World Championships Final on Day 1.  What a way to start the European Championships.

The 2018 European Championships start today and as usual France are the established favorites for this major tournament.  They are closely followed by hosts Croatia and Olympic Champions, Denmark.  Further down the list are Spain, defending champions Germany and World Championship runners up, Norway.

2018 European Championships Odds (Courtesy of Best Betting)

Nation Odds
France 2.25 to 1
Croatia 3 to 1
Denmark 4.25 to 1
Spain 8 to 1
Germany 9 to 1
Norway 14 to 1
Sweden 25 to 1
Slovenia 40 to 1
Hungary 50 to 1
Serbia 100 to 1
Macedonia 200 to 1
Iceland 225 to 1
Belarus 500 to 1
Czech Rep 500 to 1
Austria 1000 to 1
Montenegro 1000 to 1

Analysis

The EHF website has a nice preview article on each nation participating.
EHF “Countdown” articles on each nation: Link

The Stregspiller Website has several good interview and previews of the tournament and the chances of the top teams

Sascha Staat on Germany:  Link
Kevin Domas on France: Link
Peter Bruun’s Overall Preview:  Link

Peter Bruun’s summary is excellent and I pretty much concur with all of his analysis.  In particular, the following:

“Still, France possesses sufficient power and quality to be my top pick for winning the title.  However, much will depend on the performance of Nikola Karabatic – more so now than ever before. France with or without their charismatic leader is a very different team, and if Karabatic can’t deliver, “Les Bleus” won’t even reach the semi-finals.”

Recently, I was amused somewhat about twitter postings regarding possible MVPs and key players for the tournament.  Amused in that there wasn’t much talk about Karabatic, who I still think is the best player in the world.  (Probably, the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) as well, but, that’s fodder for a longer commentary).  And, for sure, shepherding this talented, but relatively inexperienced team to a title as a 33 year old veteran would be a big legacy statement.  But, then again flaming out in the Main Round would also make a statement.

I’m a little bit less enamored with Croatia despite being the host.  As with France and Karabatic much of Croatia’s success hinges on Domagoj Duvnjak.  Reportedly, he’s back in fine form after being out for several months due to injury, but I will need to see that with my own eyes in a non-friendly match to believe it.  Perhaps they can still be willed into the semifinals as the host nation regardless, but I have my doubts.  Looking to the Main Round the would be Norway-Croatia match might be pivotal for advancement

In Groups C and D, I think Denmark and Germany are pretty clear favorites and it wouldn’t surprise me if they both end up with unblemished records, excepting of course their head to head matchup.  Spain could surprise, but I don’t think any of the other teams have the personnel to match up with them.

For the Final Four.  I’ll go with France beating Germany in one semi and Denmark beating Norway in the other.  And, then France getting revenge over Denmark in the Final.

Gotta Love the Format

Personally, I wax and wane as to whether the Preliminary/Knock out stage or Preliminary/Main Round format is better.  There’s a lot of drama in a Round of 16, but, this European Championship sure makes a strong case for the latter.  Day 1 and we’ve got a rematch of the WC Final between Norway and France.  A match that could very well put the loser on the cusp of not making the semifinals.  Wow, talk about a riveting way to start out the tourney!

EHF Stepping Up their Game on the Media Side:  Link

Well, I’ll jump the gun a bit and assume that the EHF will not have any geoblocking of the championship like 2 years ago.  Hopefully, a good assumption.  Every match should be available at ehfTV live and on demand.  Viewers in the U.S. should get their “boss key” working as pretty much every day for the next 2 weeks will have 3 or 4 matches available for viewing around Mid-day depending on your time zone.

Further, it looks like they will have a daily show with highlights and interviews which should be an outstanding way to catch up on the competition and get fired up for the upcoming matches.  They will also be live tweeting conversations and Snap Chat.

 

Podcast (Episode 27): Sterne School Handball Coach, Craig Brewer

The Sterne School Dolphins, 2017 Youth Cal Cup Champions

This past November, The Sterne School of San Francisco won their 2nd consecutive Youth Cal Cup title. Joining me on the podcast is their head coach Craig Brewer.  Craig was the 2016 USA Team Handbal Youth Development Handball Coach of the Year and has been involved with education for 20 years.  We discuss the genesis of the Sterne School handball program and how the San Francisco Cal Heat Club has helped develop Middle School and High School Handball in the Bay Area.  We also discuss the challenges of starting a High School handball program and brainstorm some options for further handball growth in American Schools.

Sterne School: Link

SF Cal Heat: Link

Video of Sterne School vs Bayhill:  Link

Youth CalCup 2017: Bayhill vs. Sterne – 2nd half

Posted by San Francisco CalHeat Team Handball Club on Saturday, November 18, 2017

 

Link to commentary on football positions ideal for handball: Link


The Unofficial sponsor of this podcast episode was ehfTV and the 2018 Men’s European Championships.  Catch all the action from 12-28 January, for free, live and on demand on ehfTV. The world’s best option for handball web streaming.


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Well, it Had to Happen Sooner or Later:  Barcelona’s Unbeaten Streak is Snapped after 133 Matches and What it Says about Long Shot Chances in Handball

Big News in Spain: Barcelona played a Liga Asobal handball match and didn’t win it.

In the midst of the Women’s World Championships this past December a pretty significant Liga Asobal Men’s club match was played in Guadalajara, Spain where the host team managed a 26-26 draw against, Barcelona, one of the best club teams in the world.

Why was that draw significant?  Well, because not since May 18, 2013, when they lost to Naturhouse La Riolla, 33-31 had Barcelona failed to win a match in Spain’s top competition.  A staggering 133 straight victories and 4 straight undefeated 30-0-0 seasons from 2013 to 2017.  Back in 2013, I wrote a commentary on how the financial crisis in 2008 had set in motion the tumbling of what was once the World’s 2nd best league to merely an afterthought competition.  Essentially, Barca and everybody else.

Still, 133 straight victories?  No upsets along the way? This is not simply a matter of amateurs vs pros.  The other teams in the league aren’t what they once were, but they are sides still mostly, if not entirely, composed of professional athletes.  Granollers and Leon have had decent teams the past few years.  Perhaps if you ranked every single club in Europe, they’d be somewhere in the top 30.  Top 50, for sure. They’ve each had 8 shots at taking Barca down.  Plus, the home court advantage for half those games.  Crazy things can happen with “home cookin” if you know what I mean.  I don’t care how much better the opposition is.

One couldn’t imagine such a string of victories in American professional sports.  There’s just way more parity even if there have been some pretty dominant teams over the years like the present day Golden State Warriors.

Just how lacking in parity is the Liga Asobal?  Well, I would ascertain, that Barcelona has the league’s best player at every position.  Probably, the 2 best players at every position.  Heck, there might not be another athlete on all the other teams combined who could find a spot on their roster.  OK, that might be a stretch, but for sure nobody playing on any of the other teams would start for Barcelona.  And, not only are the players better at every position they are significantly better.  There’s a huge gap in talent.

Still, 133 straight victories?

Handball is Just Not the Sport for the Big Shock Upset

But, then again maybe 133 straight wins isn’t such a shocker.  When you’re looking for the really big upset in sports there are several factors that come into play.

  • How hard is it to score? Games with a lot of scoring are less prone to upsets because the odds dictate that the better team is going to get its points and the weaker team will be faced with the prospect of matching and scoring more.  But, if the the prospect of scoring is challenging even for a great team it open the door to the possibility of a huge upset by even totally outmanned opposition.  And, no other sport demonstrates this as ably as soccer where a game can be won, 1-0.  Entirely amateur sides have knocked off dramatically superior opposition in such games over the years.  More often than not the top side wins 5-0, but every once in a while a lucky goal goes in off a corner kick and the dramatically inferior side puts 11 players in the box and prays the pro side can’t find the back of the net.
  • How many opportunities are there to score? This essentially relates to the variability in outcomes over time.  The longer the game, the more chances to score, the more likely it is the better team will eventually come out on top.  It’s just statistics really.  For any 5 minutes in a 60 minute game, the weaker team might outperform the stronger team.  A team will miss a shot, but if they get to keep shooting, it’s only a matter of time before talent wins out.  But, if there are fewer opportunities or it’s a game of shorter duration then the upset becomes more possible.  There are a couple of sports that demonstrate this well.  One is Rugby 7s where a minor rugby nation like the U.S. can knock off New Zealand without causing much of a real surprise in this 14 minute compact game.  Whereas a USA Rugby 15s victory over New Zealand would be epic.  Another game:  Beach Handball where a USA victory over a top team would be a minor surprise, but the same win over a European team in court handball would again be epic.
  • How much difference can one player’s great performance make? In some sports an incredibly great game by one athlete can make all the difference.  A great pitcher in baseball can throw a no-hitter.  A basketball player can shoot out the lights from 3 point land.  The closest thing to something similar happening in handball is a commanding goalie performance.  And, I’ve seen it happen, on occasion, but in reality such a performance might realistically mean chopping the talent gap 4-5 goals.

Handball is a game where 2 of these 3 factors always work against the dramatically weaker team.  And, even the 3rd possibility of a great individual performance is muted somewhat in its effectiveness.  Upsets do happen in handball.  But, those upsets typically occur in matches where the talent gap between the two sides is actually somewhat modest.  Think, the French women’s recent upset of Norway.  There was a gap in talent, but not a chasm and goalie play/defense overcame it.  But, the bigger the gap widens in terms of talent the chances of a shock upset increase dramatically, probably exponentially.

Unwittingly, a Test Case for Other Handball Odds Assessments

I’ve written a couple of commentaries (Link 1, Link 2) where I’ve tried to critically assess the odds of the U.S. National Teams to qualify for the Olympics and the World Championships.  As, I did my assessment I struggled a bit to try and quantify the differences between long shots, big long shots and really, really long shots.  It’s a theoretical contemplation for sure to entertain the differences between 5-1, 10-1, 50-1, 100-1, 250-1, etc.   And, the USA Women are never going to play Brazil a thousand times to get some good data that might back up assertions on just how long are the odds for a long shot upset.

But, Barcelona’s 133 straight victory run over the past four years probably serves as a pretty good approximation.  Heck, one could argue that the gap in talent between Barcelona and the typical also run Liga Asobal team is less than the gap that exists between the U.S. and Brazil Women.  Much like the gap I described above I don’t think a single American would make the Brazilian roster.  The Brazilian roster is composed mostly of athletes playing on tier 1 teams in Europe.  The U.S. has maybe a couple of players that with some more competitive experience could possibly make the roster of a tier 2 side in Europe, but the bulk of the roster, while hard working is tier 3 at best.  Even with Brazil’s disappointing World Championship performance there is still a massive talent gap.  We could argue as to whether the possibility of an upset is a 100-1, 250-1 or 500-1 proposition, but there should be little doubt that it’s a big number.

And, the double whammy the U.S. Men face in having to beat 2 significantly superior sides, Brazil and Argentina is aptly displayed.  Seriously, what do you think the chances are of Barcelona losing 2 games, back to back in the Liga Asobal anytime soon?   As, I previously highlighted needing 2 upsets means a really big number.  Maybe the 2,500 to 1, is even right on the money

I wish this was all simply a total nonsense speculative assessment.  I wish the U.S. had a realistic shot at Olympic qualification. I also wish we would stop kidding ourselves and start thinking long and hard about how to transform the sport of handball in this country.  To take advantage of the 10 years we’ve been given leading up to the 2028 Olympics to do things right.  I’m beginning to think the odds of that happening, though, maybe isn’t much better than our 2020 Olympic Qualification prospects.  Call me Don Quixote if you will, but, I’ll keep advocating and asking the burning questions until somebody starts thinking maybe we should try to answer them.

And, here’s a closing thought for you.  Barcelona’s 133 game victory streak may be over, but the 136 game unbeaten streak marches on.  Yeah, the match in question was a draw.  I’m thinking if there had been extra time Barca would probably have kept their winning streak.  And, Guadalajara also ran into Barcelona in the semifinals of the Copa Asobal a few weeks later with the opportunity to show everyone that the draw was no fluke.  Final score?  Barcelona 36, Guadalajara 22.

USA Women’s Trip to France:  Summary of Results and Top Level Analysis   

USA Women on defense vs Belgium

The USA Women recently traveled to France for some training and friendly competition.  Here’s a summary of their match results based on information obtained from French Club, the Belgian Federation, USA Team Handball website and various social media accounts:

16 December  USA vs Paris Saint-Germain 26-18 (Halftime 12-10)
17 December  USA vs Belgium 29-31 (11-12)
19 December  USA vs Belgium 21-31 (13-14)
20 December  USA vs HBCSA 19-31 (10-13)
21 December  USA vs Lomme Lille Metropole 24-29 (11-14)

Background on the Competition

Here’s some very top level analysis on the competition Team USA faced during the trip.  “Very top level” in that other than a few video clips I did not see any of the matches.  The relative quality of the French club team can be assessed by the division they play in.  Unlike their male counterparts (one of the world’s top clubs), the Paris S-G women play in somewhat obscurity in France’s N2F, effectively the 4th Division in France’s confusing club hierarchy nomenclature.   They entered the winter break with a 3-1-4 record and are in 7th place in their pool.   HBCSA plays in France’s 2nd Division and they had compiled a 4-1-3 record so far this season and are in 5th place.  Lomme Lille Metropole plays in France’s N1F (effectively the 3rd level) and had a 4-2-2 record and are in 4th place in their pool.

As far as to the level of the Belgian Women’s team there’s not very much in terms of recent results to assess how good they are.  According to Belgian native Jan Vanderstraeten, who plays for the Portland Sasquatch the Belgium ladies have only recently restarted their program after 13 years of not playing in international competition.  Overall, handball in Belgium is a significantly lower level than most countries in Europe, but they are now taking steps to develop their program.

Team USA Makes Do with Thin Roster

The U.S. was missing several key players and was particularly lacking in backcourt experience.  Further, with 3 goalies on the 13 player roster leaving only 10 court players available such a thin roster had to be a concern going into the trip.

Team USA Roster

Taking into account the thin roster, a 1-4 record with 2 lopsided losses against modest competition is not a surprise to me.  Playing 5 matches in 6 days is really demanding for a team with a full roster of experienced players and the U.S. was clearly short handed. Truth be told, it could have been worse and the U.S. is commended for easily taking care of the 4th division team, playing Belgium close in the first game and then playing the 2nd Division side close for a half.  Again, having not seen the matches I can only guess that the U.S. ran out of gas in the 2nd halves of the 2nd match vs Belgium and against HBCSA.

Finally, if one compares this trip’s results to the trip taken last January to France there are signs of progress.  For sure, last year’s trip had a more robust roster, but yet actually compiled more disappointing results against similar competition.  If the U.S. roster had included Andersen, Butler and Van Ryn helping out in the backcourt this team would surely have fared better.

Photos: USA vs Belgium Link Link

Belgian Federation Reports on matches: Link Link

Handzone.net (France) Report on match vs HBCSA: Link

Photos: USA vs Lomme Lille Metropole: Link

USA Team Handball Preview of Trip: Link