Since Sweden won back to back to back titles (1998 EC, 1999 WC, 2000 EC) no team has been able to repeat a major championship. That is until now since France has now won back to back with their recent Olympics and WC titles. Are we seeing the beginning of a French Handball Dynasty destined to last through to the next Olympic Games or is this a mere blip on the radar screen and major handball titles will revert to ping-ponging back forth amongst the European Powers?
Recent history: Below is the recent order of top 3 finishes for the major Handball competitions: European Championships, World Championships and Olympics
2004 Olympics: Croatia, Germany, Russia
2005 WC: Spain, Croatia, France
2006 EC: France, Spain, Denmark
2007 WC: Germany, Poland, Denmark
2008 EC: Denmark, Croatia, France
2008 Olympics: France, Iceland, Spain
2009 WC: France, Croatia, Denmark
Can they continue the string with a European Championship next year and beyond or will they drop down a few notches to the parity that has been the norm in recent years? Frog Lover (FL) and Frog Hater (FH) take up the debate:
FL: Bien sur. We have the best players in the world and therefore the best team! Who else could beat Croatia in Croatia? Karabatic at Center Back, Ohmeyer in the goal, Dinart on defense. Not to mention Abalo and Guigou at the wings and Narcisse with his athleticism. My goodness it’s not even fair to have so many good players from the same country.
FH: Vraiment? I notice you didn’t brag about your Right Back or Circle Runner? Yeah, Jerome Fernandez is world class, but he’s a righty and you Frogs don’t have any lefties to properly play that position. Sooner or later that’s going cost you. Also, Cedric Sorhaindo was barely adequate at Circle in the absence of Bertrand Gille at the WC in Croatia. You really could have used Gille at Circle.
FL: Uh, hello? We still won in Croatia. And isn’t it wonderful that we can still win while missing a top player like Gille (in Croatia) and Fernandez (in Beijing) with his broken wrist. It’s called depth and boy do we have it. What other nation can lose a major cog in the wheel and still win a major title without missing a beat?
FH: All true now, but you frogs won’t stay young forever. I say again, Fernandez is playing out of position and he’ll be a little creaky at age 35 when London rolls around in 2012. Dinart will also be 35. The Gille brothers will be 34 (Bertrand) and 36 (Guillame) Nobody is on the horizon to backfill those positions. Those players are already past their prime and there old bodies will be struggling under the weight of all those games 3.5 years from now.
FL: Ha. Ha. I notice you didn’t mention Karabatic and Abalo as being creaky old men in London. They’re 24 now and will be 28 and 27, resepectively in London. That’s right, they will be in their prime and Narcisse will still be in relatively good shape at 32. Not to mention, the fact that Karabatic’s performance was somewhat ordinary in Beijing and Croatia. Surely, you don’t think that will continue for all the championships coming up in the next 3 years. And we’ll let our old timers take some strategic breaks. Perhaps we’ll let Fernandez take off the EC next year in Austria, but make sure Bertand Gille’s back playing. We’ll just rotate our old guys until 2012. Besides, 35 is old for a Handball player, but it’s not ancient. Judicious use of playing time, plus a few up and comers and we’ll be fine.
FH: So, who are those up and comers? You’ve got some good backcourts now, but nobody on par with Narcisse, Karabatic, Gille and Fernandez. Even in Croatia, you had to call back Joel Abati (38 years old) to fill in the gap.
FL: Well, give us a couple of years to find someone. Also, my friend, expect even more from Abalo in the coming years. He’s too much of a talent to keep hidden on the wing for an entire game. Every time he comes round to the backcourt area he creates havoc for the defense. Something tells me it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing him play a little right back or maybe even center back.
FH: Ha. Ha. My turn to laugh. He’s too small and slight of build to play back court. Guys like Roggisch will eat him for lunch.
FL: I didn’t say he will play there full time. I’m just saying he will play there some to mix it up. Guys like Roggisch can’t stay in front of him. They’ll get their two minute penalty and then we Frogs we’ll play 6 on 5. Try covering him then.
FH: We are digressing. The real issue here is that you guys are, you know, French. It doesn’t matter if you have the best players. Some way, some how, you guys will find a way to lose. Not to mention, there is the traditional European way of equality. We’ll see to it that you guys are knocked down a peg.
FL: Perhaps. We will see. I will say this though. Who’s going to beat us? You can have this same basic discussion with every team in Europe. The same basic discussion, except that every other national team has a lot more flaws than we do.
FH: Touche! I don’t have an answer for that. Except to say every story needs a villain. Handball now has one. If France isn’t the team everyone was rooting against before, they certainly are now.