The Olympic years are always a bit hectic, when the IHF and EHF endeavor to ‘squeeze in’ their U-20 and U-18 Championships for one gender each. The IHF focus is on the women and the EHF has their two events on the men’s side. The two U-20 are about to finish up, while the Euro U-18 has just started and the IHF women’s U-18 will follow shortly after the Olympic Games. The crowded calendar is inevitable, but it means that perhaps these events get less attention than they deserve.
For me, it has always been interesting to discover some general trends: which countries are able to match their success at the senior level with good results for a new wave of young players, which ‘new’ countries seem to be on the verge of breaking through, and which U-20 teams are able to repeat successes from when they were U-18 two years ago. This year, it seems that there are not so many interesting discoveries, but I will attempt to pick out some highlights.
Tomorrow Friday, Sweden and France will play in the final for the World U-20 Championship for women. This is a nice continuation for Sweden after essentially the same group of players won the U-18 two years ago, where France placed fourth. The finalists at that time, Norway, are now in eighth place. Hungary and Serbia will play for the bronze medals, while Russia beat Korea for fifth place. For Sweden the success is a good sign, in a situation where some observers are skeptical about the senior team now getting ready to play in London. They did not do so well in the 2011 World Championships, and some of the players may in any case need to be replaced in a near future. So it is good to know that the succession seems secured.
Sweden is also virtually the only country that simultaneously is gaining a top position in both the women’s World U-20 and the men’s Euro U-20. In the latter event, the semifinals were played today, with Spain beating Sweden and Croatia beating the rivals Slovenia. Norway in the 5th place game and Germany in the 7th place game are no surprises, but that their respective opponents are Portugal and Switzerland may be more significant. (Portugal defeated Switzerland today with 45-44, after double overtime and 7-m-throws!) Right behind those top eight teams, there is a bunch of traditional powers: Denmark, Russia, Iceland and Poland.
It is a bit early to say much about the Euro U-18, as only two rounds of group play have been completed. It is interesting to note three of the teams that failed to qualify for this event: Hungary, Poland and Russia. In the early going, Sweden and Germany are ahead in one group where France is so far without points. (What happened to the famous ‘pipeline’ system in France)? Austria, the home team in this event, has taken advantage of comfortable settings and perhaps an easy group where they are now at the top. Denmark ahead of Serbia, and Germany ahead of Spain are the other teams with a good start, so that seems like a confirmation that top nations are doing well in this age category.