Germany’s depth or Hungary’s defence? Analysing the key factors before the big final at Germany/Greece 2023

02 Jul. 2023

Germany’s depth or Hungary’s defence? Analysing the key factors before the big final at Germany/Greece 2023

Two seven-game winning streaks, two teams who duly impressed at the 2023 IHF Men's Junior World Championship, two European powerhouses searching for glory: The scene is set in the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin, where the new junior world champion will be crowned on Sunday, in front of a packed arena.

In one corner, the co-hosts Germany, the fans' darlings, a team which has morphed from one with plenty of potential into a dominating juggernaut which can fire from all cylinders and get meaningful contributions from all players, dominating through their depth and experience.

In the other one, a surprise package, Hungary, who have conceded the second lowest number of goals, also have immense depth but have reached this stage of the competition for the first time in 46 years, this being their first final since the inaugural edition of the IHF Men's Junior World Championship, when they lost against the Soviet Union (10:24).

Germany are back in the final at the IHF Men's Junior World Championship for the first time since 2011, coincidentally when the competition was also hosted by Greece, the other co-hosts in 2023. 

The big bet made by Germany is on the experience, both on the players' side and on the coach's side, with Martin Heuberger securing the previous two titles won by Germany at the IHF Men's Junior World Championship in 2009 and 2011. Therefore, Heuberger knows a thing or two about how to create a winning team, which he did here, too.

Germany's main advantage has been their extraordinary depth. To put things into perspective, the co-hosts have the fourth-best attack in the competition so far with 247 goals scored in seven games, but have only one player in the best 50 scorers at Germany/Greece 2023, left wing Tim Freihöfer, who ranks 28th with 35 goals.

"We are really happy, and we have really been enjoying the world championship so far. We won seven games so far, everything went according to plan, so there is only one big game, which we need to win. That's the dream scenario," says Germany's captain, Renars Uscins.

Uscins, who is Germany's captain and is considered one of the best prospects on the right back position in the past decade, has been starting every game so far but got copious amounts of rest, with cover from Max Beneke or Nils Lichtlein, to come as fresh as possible in the knockout phase of the competition.

He delivered his best game so far at Germany/Greece 2023 in the semi-final against Serbia, scoring nine goals on his way to the hummel Player of the Match award, being virtually unstoppable.

Sure, Uscins is only one of the players who has Bundesliga experience from this Germany side, who already sealed some silverware, at the M19 EHF EURO 2021, when they clinched the title with a huge win against Croatia in the final (34:20).

This time around, though, Germany's mission seems more complex and challenging, facing an unbeaten Hungary side, which has delivered excellent defensive performances throughout the competition.

With 172 goals conceded or an average of 24.5 goals per game, Hungary have the second-best defence, with only Poland conceding fewer goals (168). Yet, the finalists had a more difficult schedule until the final.

The numbers favour Germany, though, with Germany boasting a better attack – 246 goals scored as opposed to Hungary's 215 – but the two sides are quite balanced in shooting efficiency – Hungary leading the way with 67.6%, as opposed to Germany's 66.8%.

Hungary, which did not make the final in the competition since 1977 and only have two medals under their belt – silver at Sweden 1977 and bronze at Hungary 2005 – are dreaming high, delivering excellent performances.

Like Germany, they only have one player between the top 50 scorers at Germany/Greece 2023, right wing Bence Imre, who is on the 40th place with 33 goals. In the semi-final against Iceland, won by seven goals (37:30), 12 outfield players scored at least a goal.

"Yeah, we are very happy. I can't even describe it. An amazing feeling. I'm so speechless. It's fantastic. It's a dream come true, absolutely. I can't say anything more," adds Gábor Temesvári, Hungary's lynchpin in defence.

While Temesvári is one of the players with the highest number of suspensions in the competition, nine in seven matches, he is crucial to the team's success, with his tall frame enabling Hungary to play in an aggressive 5-1 defence, which definitely puts pressure on the opponent's attack.

"I think we all play for each other; we are a very good team. To win the final, it would be amazing," added Hungary's best defender, who received a standing ovation when he came out of the arena to get on the bus from a dozen of Hungarian fans.

Whether Hungary or Germany win the final is still to be seen. One thing is certain though: they have been the most complete teams, the sides which rotated the best, they had excellent depth and delivered the best handball so far. But only one side can win the title.