Team USA at the IHF Men’s Handball World Championships: Results of Every Match Played since 1963

Is the U.S. winless in World Handball Championship Competition? Maybe. It depends if you want to count B World Championships.

Next week the USA Men’s National Team will take part in the IHF Men’s Handball World Championship. It’s been 20 years since the U.S. last appeared in a Sr World’s Championships and the questions that keep cropping up are:

  • How well did the U.S. do in previous World Championships? 
  • What’s the U.S. record in previous World Championships?

The short answer to the first question is “not very well,” but, the long answer is a bit more complicated due to the changes in the qualification paths, the number of participants and the competition formats the IHF has implemented since the first indoor championship was held in 1938. And, the answer to the second question is open for debate depending on what you count as a World Championship. The discussion below should help explain why answering these questions aren’t as simple as you might think they would be.

Changes in Qualification Paths (A, B and C World Championships)

Notwithstanding the complications COVID has caused with qualification for the 2021 World Championships, qualification for the World Championships is now fairly straight forward. Various continental federations are awarded a number of slots and continental championships are held to determine which nations will qualify for the final tournament.

But, this was not always the case. In fact, from 1976 to 1992 the IHF organized 3 separate World Championships designated as A, B and C World Championships. As you might assume the A Championship was for the top teams and the B and C Championships featured lower level teams. And, much like a European league there was relegation and promotion between the different championships. If one looks back at the nations participating in these various tournaments it’s not entirely clear how nations qualified for the different tournaments. The C World Championships just featured European teams and the same was true with the B World Championships until 1985 when nations from other parts of the world were added.

Presumably, the idea was to give nations like the U.S. an opportunity to get some quality competition on the world stage since only one nation from Pan America qualified for the A Championships. As you might expect the competition in B tournaments was a bit easier and this is reflected with the 6-0-14 record the U.S. compiled with its 3 participations in 1985, 1987 and 1992. Certainly better than the 0-0-25 goose eggs the U.S. has for its six A World Championship appearances.

Changes in the Nations Participating

It also should be noted that the number of participating nations has grown over the years. From 1964 to 1993, A World Championships featured 16 teams. From 1993 to 2019 the field consisted of 24 teams. And, 2021 will be the first time 32 teams will participate. In general, the fewer teams that participate in a World Championships, the stronger the overall field is.

Making the 16 team tournaments even more challenging was the inclusion of just one team from Africa, Asia and the Americas. It’s no real surprise that the U.S. failed to get a win in 1964, 1970, 1974 and 1993 against the European teams playing in these tournaments. I am a little surprised, however, that the U.S. couldn’t get a win vs an Asian side during these tournaments.

When the tournament was expanded to 24 teams that also should have given the U.S. a win or two, particularly at the 1995 WC just a year prior to the 96 Olympics where the U.S. picked up 2 wins and was fairly competitive against the European teams. Not sure what happened there… Although I did find out recently that Darrick Heath did not participate due to a contractual commitment with his club that precluded his fully participating in a National Team training camp. The 2001 WC was simply an overmatched team and they were undoubtedly the weakest team in that 24 team field.

Changes in Format

The final reason the U.S. hasn’t picked off a win at a World Championship yet is that with the exception of the 1993 tournament they’ve never played in a consolation or President’s Cup round. With the President’s Cup there are multiple matches against other teams that fail to make the Main Round and only the last place team goes home without a win. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the U.S. was the very worst team at every tournament they played in. If the President’s Cup format had been in place the U.S. in some of the earlier tournaments the U.S. would have picked off a win somewhere.

Should the B World Championship Matches Count?

Well, there are a couple of ways to look at this. One way is to go with the semantics of if you’re going to call something a “World Championship” then a win there counts. The counter to that argument is the “B” classification in front of it… As in, sorry, you’re not playing with the big boys, therefore it doesn’t count.

I tend to side with the latter argument. Yes, those B World Championships weren’t as weak as the “B” designation would seem to make it, but they were still “the little kid’s table” at Thanksgiving.

That’s not to say that those wins at the B World Championships are meaningless. On the contrary, they are documented proof that U.S. teams back in the 80s and 90s had a measure of respectability. We were clearly better than 3rd tier European sides, could beat 2nd tier European teams, and on a good day give the top teams in the world a bit of a scare. If one looks at the score lines at the 1985 B World Championships the U.S. was competitive in every match. Even played the 2nd half to a draw with the eventual tournament winner, E Germany.

These results suggest that the 85 B WC was the best ever U.S. performance and that the 1995 WC was the best “A” World Championship performance.

As one looks ahead to the 2021 campaign, one can hope for a similar distinction: A measure of respectability against the really good teams and hopefully a couple of wins in the President’s Cup against similar sides trying to prove themselves. And, probably most importantly, real signs of promise as to even better performances at future World Championships leading up to the 2028 Olympics.

Every World Championship Match the U.S. Has Played in

Here’s a compilation of every World Championship the U.S. has participated in and the score from every match played.

IHF Competition Archive: Link (PDF with all competitions through 2009)

1963 Men’s Outdoor Field Handball World Championship (Switzerland)

IHF Competition Summary: Link

The IHF staged one more Outdoor Field Handball World Championship in 1966 and then discontinued the tournament. The 1963 Championship was the only outdoor world championship that the U.S. particiated in.

1964 Men’s Handball World Championship (Czechoslovakia)

  • Wikipedia Page: Link

1970 Men’s Handball World Championship (France)

  • Wikipedia Page: Link

1974 Men’s Handball World Championship (E Germany)

  • Wikipedia Page: Link

1985 Men’s Handball B World Championship (Norway)

  • Todor 66 webpage: Link

1987 Men’s Handball B World Championship (Italy)

  • Todor 66 webpage: Link

1992 Men’s Handball B World Championship (Austria)

  • Todor 66 webpage: Link

1993 Men’s Handball World Championship (Sweden)

  • Wikipedia Page: Link

1995 Men’s Handball World Championship (Iceland)

  • Wikipedia Page: Link

2001 Men’s Handball World Championship (France)

  • Wikipedia Page: Link