Iceland’s women handball players breaking through internationally

EHF allows these weapons and uniforms???

As most people who follow international handball are well aware, it is never a surprise when the Icelandic men’s national team has success in World or European Championships.  But it has been more surprising that, in a country well-known for having a strong women’s emancipation, the Icelandic women handball players have not had many good showings internationally in the past.  However, it seems that a change is now coming.

Some thought that it was just a fluke that Iceland finally managed to qualify for the women’s European Championship in 2010.  This was achieved through a home-and-away qualification win against Austria.  It was suspected that this was perhaps more due to a temporary weakness in Austrian women’s handball, especially after Iceland went on to lose all its three matches in the group play in the European Championship.  But then one must note that the opponents were Russia, Montenegro and Croatia, and that the losses were not with really discouraging margins.

Nevertheless, it came as a bit of a shock when the result was announced from the Iceland home game in the qualifying against Ukraine last month.  Ukraine has really strong traditions on the women’s side; indeed the Soviet dominance during many decades in the past was largely due to the strength of the Ukrainians, led by the husband-wife team of Coach Turtchin and team captain and world-class player Turtchina.  So the 37-18 result was really remarkable.  And the Icelandic women seemed to have little difficulty in holding on in the away game, getting a 24-24 tie.

It was known that as a team seeded in the lowest performance row, Iceland had to expect to be drawn in a very tough group in the World Championship to be held in Brazil in December.  And it will certainly be tough.  Although four teams out of six will qualify from each preliminary group for the subsequent 1/8-finals, it would seem to require a miraculous performance from the Icelandic women in order to advance, now that we know the results of the draw.

The group, which will play its matches in Santos, is headed by Norway and also includes the new power team from Montenegro, the perennially strong African champions from Angola, Germany, and China.  Germany was almost a surprise qualifier after the disaster in the European Championship, so they will be determined to seek revenge.  And the Chinese women have come on strong after the surge in connection with the 2008 Olympics.  So to get ahead of two of these five teams will certainly not be easy. 

It should be noted that the upswing for the Icelandic women is not likely to be a temporary thing.  They had teams that in the ‘under-20’ and ‘under-18’ categories did really well in the qualifying stages, even if they failed to reach the final round in the 2011 European Championships.  In the younger category, they lost out on goal difference, having gained the same points as Spain and Croatia.  In the older category, they again lost again Spain and had a narrow defeat against Serbia, in a group played in Serbia.  So the clear impression is that there are many talent younger players making good progress towards the senior level.

If we then get to see the same fighting spirit from the women as the men traditionally have displayed, then the Icelandic team is likely to become a crowd favorite in Brazil and wherever they will be competing. We wish them the best of luck!