Denmark celebrate men’s handball world title again – this time in a bubble

Björn Pazen – AIPS Handball Delegate

CAIRO, February 1, 2021 – It was the first team sport World Championship since the COVID-19 outbreak, and after some initial COVID cases, the Men’s Handball World Championship in Egypt finally ended without any medical headlines, but sporting ones – and could become something like a blueprint for major sport events in 2021 with its successful bubble concept.

Like at the 2019 World Championship on home ground, Denmark raised the trophy again in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday night. After a hard-earned but well-deserved 26:24 victory in the All-Scandinavian final against Sweden, the Danes took their second ever gold medal on the global stage and were the third ever country after Romania (1974) and France (2011, 2017) in the last 50 years to defend a title. In 2019, 15,000 fans went crazy on the stands in Herning, Denmark, but on Sunday night, no fans were allowed in the Cairo Indoor Stadium, with a capacity of more than 16,000 spectators.

One year after the early elimination at the EHF EURO 2020 preliminary round, Denmark extended their series at World Championships to the new record of 19 victories in a row since the Last 16 defeat against Hungary at France 2017. The previous record of 18 straight wins was set by France between 2015 and 2019. “We made history”, said coach Nikolaj Jacobsen.

Like in 2019, Mikkel Hansen was awarded MVP of the World Championship – for the third time after 2013 and 2019. In the last ten years, the Danes have been World Championship finalists four times – and after losing in 2011 (against France) and 2013 (against Spain), they have now won the trophy twice in a row, and aim to defend their next title in August in Tokyo – arriving as 2016 Olympic champions, and qualified as 2019 world champions.

Sweden, who made it to their first final since 2001, when France defeated them, seemed close to their fifth World Championship title as Denmark could not cast them off easily.

Spain won the bronze medal, beating record world champions France in the third-place match.

The first six positions were taken by European teams ahead of host Egypt and Qatar (including World Championship top scorer Frankis Marzo/58 goals). Both teams had lost to the newly crowned world champions, who have now qualified for the 2023 World Championship, to be co-hosted by Sweden and Poland.

Final: Denmark vs Sweden 26:24 (13:13)

Finally, a pair of brothers made the day for the Danes within 25 seconds: First, outstanding goalkeeper Niklas Landin saved Hampus Wanne’s penalty at the score of 25:23, then his brother Magnus netted in for the decisive 26:23 in the dying minute of a thrilling final. Both Landins had just won the EHF Champions League trophy with THW Kiel on 29 December 2020, now they are world champions for the second time after 2019.

The final was on the edge for 60 minutes, and finally the “usual Danish suspects” were the keys for success: Niklas Landin saved 15 Swedish shots and MVP Mikkel Hansen was top scorer by seven goals after his eleven strikes in the semi-final against Spain.

But Sweden were a tough nut to crack. The “Tre Kronors” were tactically perfectly prepared on the Danish match play. At 12:10, the Swedes were ahead by two goals for the first time – and could dream of another victory against Denmark like in the semi-final of the EHF EURO 2018.

But the momentum changed after the break, when Denmark took the upper hand and Niklas Landin became a human wall. As Sweden had expected Mikkel Hansen’s performance, Nicolaj Oris had not been on their list – the back player scored five goals from five attempts. Besides, young Jacob Holm netted four crucial goals in the crunch time in the middle of the second half, when he turned a 18:19 into a 22:20 for his side. But the Danes had to wait with their party, until Landin had saved Wanne’s penalty.

Bronze medal match: Spain vs France 35:29 (16:13)

The 16 saves of goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales and 14 goals of the Dujshebaev brothers – Alex (8) and Dani (6) – were key for the second bronze medal for Spain after 2011 and the third World Championship medal for the EHF EURO 2020 champions in the last ten years. More or less, the initial 4:0 lead was crucial, as record world champions France did not get closer than on two goals before the break.

When French topscorer Hugo Descat (seven goals in total) and Barça line player Ludovic Fabregas (only Frenchmen in the All-Star team) scored twice right after the break for the 15:16, the hopes were high to turn the match around, but then Corrales shut up his shop, the wings Ferran Sole (Spanish All-Star team member) and Fernandez stroke back and the intermediate result was 26:20. When French Barça right back Dika Mem was ruled out by an injury, Spain managed to decide the match latest at 32:25. After winning five medals including four winners’ trophies in the last six World Championships, France returned home empty handed and could not “defend” their 2019 bronze medal.

Spain had only lost one match in Egypt – the semi-final against Denmark (33:35), but the players celebrated bronze like gold, knowing that this might have been the last World Championship for the golden generation.

Semi-finals: Spain vs Denmark 33:35 (16:18)

In the quarterfinal against Egypt, Mikkel Hansen was close to becoming the tragic hero, but in the semi-final, the three times IHF World Player and later-on MVP erupted like a volcano, scoring 12 times from 17 attempts. Also, the PSG left back, Aalborg’s line player Magnus Saugstrup was unstoppable in the Danish attack, scoring seven goals.

Spain was never in lead in the full 60 minutes, and though their goalkeeper’s performance improved after the break, the closest gap was one goal, four times in the second half. But Denmark decided the match right after the 30:29 thanks to three goals including a double strike by 21-year-old rising star Matthias Gidsel (GOG).

France vs Sweden 26:32 (13:16)

Andreas Palicka, who was awarded best goalkeeper in Egypt 2021, was the key by eleven saves in a quite one-sided semi-final against the record World Champions.

From the start until the end – with only one exception, the 6:7, the fully rejuvenated Swedish team was ahead against the much more experienced French side, which had to replace several injured players. Best scorer was All-star left wing Hampus Wanne with eleven goals, including four just before the break, when Sweden built the base for the final victory by a 10:6 run.

The All-star team:

Goalkeeper: Andreas Palicka (Sweden)
Left wing: Hampus Wanne (Sweden)
Left back: Mikkel Hansen (Denmark)
Centre back: Jim Gottfridsson (Sweden)
Right back: Mathias Gidsel (Denmark)

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