U21 WCh: Nine straight wins lead to gold for Sweden

Swedish MVP Philip Stenmalm

Swedish MVP Philip Stenmalm

It turned out to be dangerous to speculate about the final outcome on the basis of the results in the preliminary round. The groups must have been rather unbalanced, as group winners who looked strong faded very abruptly during the knock-out stage. Three of them, Slovenia, Germany and Denmark finished no better than 9th, 11th and 13th respectively. Other teams that looked strong in the early going, such as Serbia and hosts Bosnia also faded completely.

Instead it became obvious that Group D, with Sweden, Spain, Egypt and Brazil moving on to the ’round of 16′ must have been the real ‘powerhouse’. Egypt and Brazil won their initial ‘knock-out’ matches, and Brazil made it all the way to 6th place, with Egypt finishing in 8th place. For Brazil, this is really a strong signal for a country that will host the next Olympic handball tournament and seems to be making great strides at the right moment also on the men’s side.

Sweden beat Spain by ten goals when they met on the final day of the group stage. But this does not always mean much when teams meet for a second time, like they did today in the final. However, Sweden, who impressively ended up winning nine straight games, took the early initiative also today. The lead narrowed around half-time, but in the end the Swedes were able to pull away again and gain a 28-23 victory. They had a very solid team, with goalkeeper Peter Johannesson (Saevehof) and Andreas Berg (Oennered) making it to the All-Star Team, while Philip Stenmalm (Drott) got named Championship MVP. It seems that the both the Swedish senior national team and top clubs around Europe have some real talents to rely on in the future.

The Spanish team had a real star player in the form of Alex Dushebaev, son of world-class player and coach Talant. Alex has just recently signed up for Vardar Skopje, who will get a major reinforcement for their participation in the EHF Champions League, after father and son had to leave the now defunct Atletico Madrid. The bronze medals were won by France, beating Croatia 32-27 in a ‘junior version’ of this strong rivalry of recent years. It is interesting to note that the Netherlands took 5th place and Switzerland 7th place, ahead of many highly favored teams. It is great to see that there is some hope that two more teams might be able to (re)join the perennial favorites on the men’s side. Now we just hope that some more non-European teams will join Brazil, Egypt, Tunisia and Argentina at the highest level.