Five talking points after two excellent World Championship editions
18 Aug. 2023
This summer has been truly full of high-profile handball, with the 2023 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship taking place in Germany and Greece and the 2023 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship being scheduled in Croatia. With 230 matches played and over 13,400 goals scored, the future of handball has been on display in June, July and August, as exciting prospects, confirmed talents and unexpected rising stars joined forces to deliver some excellent, vintage games at Germany/Greece 2023 and Croatia 2023.
We will walk through the most exciting moments of the two competitions, to see what really passed the eye test and which were the most interesting milestones set throughout the two competitions, which have really set a new standard for the future.
32-team format yields dividends
These were the first-ever editions of the two competitions played in a 32-team format, mirroring the format introduced in 2021 for the senior World Championships. Moreover, the IHF Men’s Junior World Championship and the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship returned after a four-year hiatus, after the previous two editions scheduled for 2021 were cancelled, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
At the IHF Men’s Junior World Championship, two teams made their debuts – Costa Rica and Cuba – while at the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship there were six teams playing their first games in history in the competition – Burundi, Czechia, the Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Rwanda and the United States of America – while sides like the Islamic Republic of Iran or New Zealand made their comebacks after more than a decade, ensuring a diverse representation of all continents in the competitions.
New champions crowned after eight-game winning streaks
Two European powerhouses were crowned champions at the end of the two competitions, with Spain securing the gold medal at Croatia 2023 and co-hosts Germany lifting the trophy at Germany/Greece 2023. It has been an immaculate performance from both sides, which used an eight-game winning streak to clinch the medals and etch their names into history.
For Spain, it was the maiden gold medal at the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, after having lost the previous two finals, at Argentina 2011 and Georgia 2017, but this generation has shown a lot of promise, with three players in the All-Star team, plus others delivering excellent performances, including in the 28:23 final against Denmark, when “Los Hispanos” clinched the title with an outstanding defence and a free-flowing attack.
On the other hand, Germany had only one or two blips on the radar, in the main round games against France and Croatia, yet they pulled through, won them and went on to secure their third gold medal, in front of a packed Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin, after a 30:23 win against Hungary. Having excellent performances from the All-Star goalkeeper, David Späth, and the MVP of the competition, centre back Nils Lichtlein, Germany also look set for the future, especially as they will be hosting the 2027 IHF Men’s World Championship, when they are due to deliver another great performance, with some of these players shining for the national team.
Faroe Islands shine bright and bring promise for the future
Handball is surely on the rise in the Faroe Islands and the Nordic team has written history at the 2023 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship and the 2023 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship. Both sides finished in the top 8 of the two competitions, with the junior side coming seventh in their second appearance in the world handball flagship competition, while the youth side ended up on the eighth place in their debut. With both teams making the quarter-finals, the potential for the Faroe Islands is absolutely huge.
And that is also thanks to two excellent centre backs, Elias Ellefsen á Skipagøtu and Óli Mittún, who have written history in the two editions of the World Championship. First, Ellefsen á Skipagøtu became the top goal scorer at the 2023 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship, with 55 goals, and was selected in the All-Star team as the top centre back. Mittún, Ellefsen á Skipagøtu’s cousin, followed suit, becoming the best-ever scorer in a single edition of the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, with 87 goals, while also making the All-Star team as the top centre back. With these two and other rising stars, the Faroe Islands’ future looks set for the next decade, as they prepare to make their debut at the EHF EURO 2024 with the senior squad, eyeing a berth at the 2025 IHF Men’s World Championship.
Non-European side make waves at Germany/Greece 2023 and Croatia 2023
At Germany/Greece 2023, four non-European sides finished in the top-16, making it to the main round, while at Croatia 2023 there were also four non-European teams finishing in the top-16 of the competition. The best result for these sides was the fourth place sealed by Egypt at the 2023 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, as the reigning champions provided grit and some excellent performances to try and retain their title. Their game against the Faroe Islands in the quarter-finals was definitely the most exciting in a long time in the competition, after Egypt cancelled a three-goal Faroe lead in the last 69 seconds to push the game into extra-time and secure a semi-finals berth.
Saudi Arabia (12th), Brazil (14th) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (16th) were also the non-European sides to make it into the main round, as Iran were definitely one of the biggest surprises, after they blocked Sweden’s path to the main round, after a hard-fought 26:26 draw. Saudi Arabia have also delivered their best-ever performance in the competition, a sign that things are moving in the right way there.
On the other hand, at Germany/Greece 2023, Bahrain were the biggest surprise, throwing Slovenia out of contention for a place in the main round, after the two sides drew and Bahrain ended up on the 13th place in the final standings. Egypt (10th), Tunisia (14th) and Brazil (16th) were the other three non-European sides to make it in the first half of the final standings.
Excellent attendance and excellent handball throughout 28 days
With 6,805 goals scored in 116 matches, Germany/Greece 2023 has now set a record for the edition of the IHF Men’s Junior World Championship with the highest number of goals scored and the highest average number of goals scored per game. In fact, 58.66 goals were scored per game on average in the competition, beating the previous record of 58.23 goals per game, set at Egypt 2009 when Germany became champions for the first time in their history. Croatia 2023 has also delivered an excellent number of goals, 6,654 in 114 matches, for an average of 58.3 per game, the second-largest in the history of the competition.
It has also proven that the two competitions were a true success in terms of attendance, where fans came to see the games in person. At Germany/Greece 2023, in Magdeburg, Hanover and Berlin, the first games of the day saw over 20,000 children flock to the arenas and see handball, with the record being set in Berlin, with over 5,000 children at the game between France and Spain. The Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin was also sold out for the final between Germany and Hungary, with 8,235 spectators being present for the game, which saw the hosts take the trophy.