Denmark write history with otherworldly three-peat

29 Jan. 2023

Denmark write history with otherworldly three-peat

In front of 23,050 fans in the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, Denmark became the first team in history to secure the trophy at the IHF Men’s World Championship three times in a row with an excellent win against France (34:29).

A 10-goal outing from Rasmus Lauge Schmidt, complemented by a nine-goal match from Simon Pytlick, were crucial for Denmark, who secured their seventh medal in the world handball flagship competition.

Gold-medal match
France vs Denmark 29:34 (15:16)

It will always be a match that will be remembered for its meaning. Because it cannot be put any other way – history was going to be made in the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm in the final of the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship.

It was either France’s seventh trophy in the competition or Denmark’s time to become the first side in history to clinch three titles in a row in the world handball flagship event.

So the big question was simple: whose turn would it be to lift the coveted trophy over their heads at the end of this match – a single match to decide the new world champion?

If the answer had been delivered after five minutes, it would have been pretty simple. Denmark were going to extend their record unbeaten streak at the IHF Men’s World Championship to 28 matches and win the competition for the third time in a row.

Such was the synergy between their back players in attack and the excellent display from goalkeeper Niklas Landin. It looked nearly impossible to see any other result. With the rookie left back Simon Pytlick delivering three goals in the first four minutes of his first final at a major competition and with Landin saving two of the first three shots, the reigning world champions took an early 6:2 lead.

Well, they say that a team’s mettle is tested in the toughest conditions. So what were France going to do, with star left back Nikola Karabatić nursing an ankle injury and goalkeeper Vincent Gérard failing to rise to the occasion of a final at the IHF Men’s World Championship?

First things first, France, one of the most experienced sides in the competition, did not panic. Not even when Guillaume Gille called a timeout after only six minutes and saw his side fail to react. Not even when Denmark jumped to a five-goal lead (12:7) after 15 minutes.

Gille trusted his players and did not overhaul the squad, but just filled some gaps. And when right back turned centre back Nedim Remili started to show up, France really delivered some excellent handball. It was enough for them to take a 4:2 run to finish the first half and exert more pressure over Denmark, who boasted the slightest of leads at the break (16:15).

So what was coach Nikolaj Jacobsen going to do? Well, he did not pull any punches to change something in his team. After dealing only two assists and no shots on goal, left back Mikkel Hansen, Denmark’s talisman, was left on the bench for the start of the second half, only coming in to shoot penalties.

That enabled Denmark to have a more compact team after having to change two players between attack and defence. And for a while, it looked as if this had been the right choice, as Denmark bounced back with a 3:0 unanswered run to take a three-goal lead once again (20:17).

While France constantly tried to get back and even cut the gap to a single goal with 15 minutes left, it was Denmark who prevailed in the end. And while the first half might have looked like a change of guard, with Pytlick and Gidsel running the show, the second one had a different face.

The 31-year-old centre back Rasmus Lauge Schmidt missed five matches due to injury in this championship and his condition was still questionable before the final. Yet after scoring two goals in the first half, Lauge really took off in the second part, being virtually unstoppable.

In his previous three matches at Poland/Sweden 2023, Lauge failed to score a goal. On the biggest of occasions, he rose up to the challenge, took on the mantle of the leader and delivered a magnificent second half to finish the match with 10 goals. He was only the sixth player in history to score in double digits in the final of the IHF Men’s World Championship, delivering a vintage performance, one of the best, if not the best, in his career.

On top of that, Denmark also used centre back Mads Mensah Larsen in crucial moments, as he scored twice, keeping the dream alive. Simon Pytlick chose the clutch moments to deliver some goals, finishing the match with nine goals.

It proved too much depth for a battered France, whose dream was in tatters after Niklas Landin saved Melvyn Richardson’s penalty with two minutes left, keeping Denmark on a three-goal lead (32:29) which proved to be unassailable.

Denmark eventually sealed a 34:29 win, proving too strong for France, who lost their second final in eight tries at the IHF Men’s World Championship, taking only their second silver medal.

But for Denmark, this night in the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm watched by 23,050 fans proved to be historic. The Scandinavian side not only extended their unbeaten streak to 28 matches at the IHF Men’s World Championship, a record for the competition, but they also secured the third world title in a row.

It is a feature never achieved by any side, with France and Romania having previously clinched the title twice. It was also Denmark’s seventh medal at the World Championship, with only Sweden and France – 12 medals each – achieving more.