A Miracle on the Handball Court: Could it Happen?

The Swedish Womens Ice Hockey team’s 3-2 penalt shoot-out victory over the United States is surely one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history. Team USA had never lost a match to another country besides Canada in over 70 matches. Could Team Handball see the reverse happen? A bunch of teary eyed Europeans with perplexed looks of disbelief as an American, Canadian, Australian, or British team shakes up the current status quo?

Of course it “could” happen. Anything is possible. That’s why they play the game on the court instead of on paper based on each team’s reputation. However, the likelihood of any of the aforementioned teams (men’s or women’s) actually accomplishing a victory over a European team in a major international tournament is extremely unlikely, at least in the near future.

First, the sport of Team Handball, is simply not conducive to the great upset. It can happen, but the nature of the game makes it less likely. With a low scoring game like hockey, a small number of mistakes can have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of the game. One bad pass can lead to a lucky break away. An inspired defensive performance can then allow an outgunned team to secure a major upset. This formula has been used even more often in my favorite sport soccer. National cups are rife with stories of small amateur club teams putting together a string of victories against professional club teams. The same can not, however, be said with Team Handball. A few mistakes will lead to a few scores by a totally outclassed team, but they won’t add up enough for a victory. In order for the upset to be feasible the talent gap between the two teams can only be so great.

And right now, the talent gap between the have’s and the have not’s in Team Handball is simply too great. USA Hockey Coach, Herb Brooks, the architect of the original miracle on ice in 1980 has been quoted as saying that the Soviets would have beaten the USA 9 times out of 10, and that it was his job to make sure that his team was ready to win that 1 out of 10 opportunity. In all honesty, I think that it would be really reaching to think that the US or one of the other minor teams are in the 1 in 10, or for that matter the 1 in 1000 ballpark. I think for instance, right now, for the US Men’s team to beat France it would take a bizarre combination of injuries and red cards resulting in one of the French court players having to play goalie. And even then the US would have to play the game of their lives.

But if the minor teams can close the talent gap, the great upset could happen and the formula for victory is familiar. Sloppy play and poor shooting by the favorite resulting in several fast break opportunities combined with inspired play on defense and a game of their life performance by the goalie. We can dream, can’t we?