World Youth Championship: The Danes again!

Denmark-Spain: a strange but exciting final

If someone thought that Denmark’s strength in handball is primarily on the women’s side, then the results in the three men’s world championships in 2011 surely must make people realize how strong also the Danish men’s handball is.  After a second place in what I described as a ‘dream final’ in the senior championship back in January, Denmark got the silver medals also in the recent junior championship.  And today, the Danes crowned a wonderful year for men’s handball by winning the gold medals in the youth final against Spain.

In fact, the results from the three championships really paint an interesting and convincing picture regarding the current concentration of strength in the world of handball.  The three medal winners today, Denmark, Spain and Sweden, each took a step up in comparison with the senior event, where they ended up in that order behind the winners France.  In other words, exactly the same semifinalists.  But there is more to it: all of these four countries were also in the quarterfinals in the junior championship; moreover, Egypt and Germany were at least in the quarterfinals in both events. 

The four matches today were played in an unusually fair and peaceful atmosphere.  Perhaps the early starting time for the 7th place game Germany-Croatia may have contributed to a ‘sleepy’ affair despite the 29-28 score.  Egypt won the 5th place by also winning by one goal, 25-24 against Switzerland.  In the bronze medal game, Sweden came out of the starting blocks with energy and determination.  France managed to come close in the end, but the Swedes held off and pulled away again for a 28-24 victory.

The final had a really strange chronology.  Spain played convincingly in the first half and had a 17-13 lead.  But the second half saw a remarkable combination of a strong Danish defense and a sudden helplessness on offense by the Spanish team.  They did not score a goal for the first 18 minutes of that half.  Of course, the Danes scored just four goals during that same phase, so they only managed to reach a tie at 17-17.  Then Spain regained a lead by two goals, but Denmark got the last three goals of the game, which was enough for a 24-22 win.  A remarkable fact:  Spain had no 2-minute suspension whatsoever; Denmark had only two and one of them was for an incorrect substitution.  When did that last happen in a final!?

IHF experts and media reporters have commented on the high level of play throughout the Championship.  They have emphasized the speed and the technical skills.  But I think it is also fair to say that the speed and eagerness of these young and not so experienced players may have had something to do with strange ‘swings’ in the score line in a large number of games.  Several consecutive goals by one team were often followed by a similar success by the opponents.  Wild shots and failed passes accounted for some of this, as did the common tendency in this age group for individual players to try to do too much on their own.  Nevertheless, they created a lot of excitement, and it is only regrettable there was not more of an international TV coverage available.