Sweden prevents the ‘dream final’

For many years now, neutral observers of women’s handball might tend to describe Denmark-Norway as some kind of ‘dream final’ in a EURO event. (Of course, in a World Championship Korea tends to enter into the picture). And if a Championship is jointly hosted by Denmark and Norway, then it is not surprising if a lot of the media speculation has been about a possible final between these two teams. And for the most part, the results have been pointing in this direction.

But then came this strange ‘blip’ a few days ago, when the Norwegians lost on home court against Sweden. If at least it had been one of the ‘usual suspects’, i.e., Russia or Hungary, but Sweden…. So when Denmark and Norway now play each other, it will be on Saturday in the semi-final and not in the final on Sunday. Sweden gets to play another traditional handball power ‘in yellow and blue’, namely Romania, in the other semi-final.

In a neutral setting it would have been harder to mention a favorite but, playing at home in front of a fanatic crowd, the Danish team will be tough to beat. Indeed, it has caused strong reactions from many directions, when opponents and TV viewers have observed not just a strong positive support for the home team but also determined efforts to disturb the opponents. This kind of behavior may have become more and more ‘normal’ these days in many parts of the world, but I think the reactions are the result of a tradition and expectation that Danish crowds always seemed to be too sportsmanlike to behave like this…

Of course, it did not get better when the Danish coach did not seem to ‘remember’ that is clear considered illegal behavior, when he himself gets involved in agitating the crowd, and it also seemed it took a bit long for the EHF supervisors to remind him about it and stop the nonsense. If the ‘only’ effect is on the opponents, perhaps the whole issue is less drastic. (And in fact, the Norwegian players have shrewdly been heard saying that they look forward to the crowd behavior! True or not, that is of course the right attitude). But a major part of the problem is that some less ‘hardened’ referees may also become affected by the crowd. Clearly the game Denmark-Romania was a bad example of this effect.

Naturally, it is up to the EHF (and next month the IHF) to ensure that these events are handled by referees who have the experience and personality to ignore the crowd pressure as much as possible. But this is easier said than done. First, the world handball is currently undergoing a generation change in the top level of refereeing and, moreover, even the sturdiest of our elite referees can be made to hesitate for a moment. After all, as we sometimes conveniently forget, they are human beings! And a couple of moments of doubt or hesitation is all it takes in a close game.

So let us keep our fingers crossed for a weekend of pure handball propaganda!