First World Championship in men’s team handball for Denmark?

The 2019 World Championship in men’s team handball starts in next week and Denmark is the host nation for the second time in history. The hostess is shared with Germany, but except for the opening match against Chile played in Copenhagen and the two semifinals played in Hamburg, all Denmark’s matches are played in Herning. I’m absolutely convinced that Denmark will be one of the four semi-finalists and I actually believe that Denmark will for the first time ever win the World Championship in men’s team handball.

So far Denmark has won four World Championship medals; three of silver (1967, 2011 and 2013) and one of bronze (2007). But only at the 2011 World Championship Denmark was close to the title as world champion. The tournament in Sweden 8 years ago was – including Denmark’s first European Championship title in 2008 and in Serbia 4 years later – in my opinion the best international tournament that a Danish national team has played ever. In the semi-final against Spain (28-24) in Kristianstad and in the final against France (35-37) in Malmö, which was first decided after prolonged playing time, the Danish national team showed absolute world-class. Denmark deserved the World Championship title in 2011, but as so often before, France was best in the decisive seconds of the WC-final.

Both the 2011 World Championship final in Malmö and the European Championship titles in Lillehammer and Belgrade I followed as spectator. But I also remember the 1967 World Championship final between Denmark and Czechoslovakia in 1967, which I followed as a 9-year-old kid on a black-and-white television in freezing temperatures outside the local TV and radio shop in Aarhus. The fascination of the TV broadcasts from Västerås in Sweden contributed greatly to the fact that I immediately after the 1967 World Championship began playing handball in Viby IF and that many Sunday afternoons in the years thereafter were spent with exciting handball events in Aarhus Arena, when Aarhus KFUM, AGF and Skovbakken fought for the national championship title against HG, Stadion, Efterslægten, Helsingør IF, SAGA and Fredericia KFUM. Where are all these “honorable” clubs today – “closed”, merged with other clubs or placed in the Danish handball’s second or third Leagues?

The expectations for a Danish victory in the 1967 World Championship final were great after a surprising Danish victory of 17-12 against the favorite of the tournament Soviet Union in the semi-final. It was the match where one of my childhood heroes – the goalkeeper Erik Holst from Aarhus KFUM – was a “living wooden fence” and where he made the goalkeeping position in handball for something very special. Just think of the other “legends” on this “ungrateful” position: Mogens “Muggi” Jeppesen in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Kasper Hvidt at the beginning of this century and in the past decade – Niklas Landin. The goalkeeper’s performance has always been crucial, when the European Championship, the World Championship or the Olympic medals in team sports as handball are distributed.

That is why, in my opinion, Niklas Landin is Denmark’s absolute “key player” in relation to a Danish World Championship success in the coming weeks. It is not an easy task for a goalkeeper to top-performe in all matches during the WC, so the Danish national team will definitely need assistance from Jannick Green, who has also shown world-class in decisive matches. Landin and Green is, however, very dependent on a strong central defense with the brothers René and Henrik Toft Hansen and Henrik Mølgaard as key players, not least when the Danish national team reaches the semi-final and the final. I don’t think that Denmark is having a lot of challenges of scoring many goals in either the preliminary round or the main round – the number and variations of attack combinations are far too diverse. But a strong central defense with a clear division of responsibilities and roles will be crucial to the performances of Landin and/or Green, especially in the semi-final and the final.

Another important reason for my WC optimism is a very favorable draw for the Danish national team. Denmark will, right up to the semi-finals, avoids strong nations such as France, Spain, Germany and Croatia. In fact, I think that Denmark can only be challenged by Norway (17.1.) in the preliminary round and by Sweden in the main round. The national teams from Chile (10.1.), Tunisia (12.1.), Saudi Arabia (14.1.) and Austria (15.1.) in the preliminary round and Hungary, Qatar or Egypt in the main round, in my opinion, are really without chances against a Danish national team that has the support of the whole nation and not least of the 15,000 enthusiastic spectators in the Boxen.

The biggest challenge to a Danish World Championship success is, from my perspective, France, which has been totally dominant in international men’s team handball since the millennium. Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, World Champions in 1995, 2001, 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2017 and European Champions in 2006, 2010 and 2014 testify to a completely unique national team, which has also given itself the name: “Site Les experts” – the experts. France, with experienced players such as Karabatic, Guigou and Sohaindo, all played more than 200 international matches, complemented by younger world-class players like Fabregas, Mem, Tournat and Remili are also this time – together with Spain, Croatia and Germany – among the favorites of the World Championship title. But Denmark has shown – ex. in the Olympic finals 2016 in Rio – that France can be defeated. I think the same result will happen on Sunday 27 of January 2019 in Herning.

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