What was hot in the quarter-finals at Poland/Sweden 2023

26 Jan. 2023

What was hot in the quarter-finals at Poland/Sweden 2023

The quarter-finals of the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship are now a thing of the past. Still, we reflect on what happened in Gdansk and Stockholm in a fiery day at Poland/Sweden 2023, while also looking for a bit in the future to the final weekend of an exciting 28th IHF Men’s World Championship.

A carbon copy of Egypt 2021 semi-finals

For the second time in history – after Germany 1961 and Czechoslovakia 1964 – the same four teams qualified for the semi-finals of the IHF Men’s World Championship in consecutive editions of the competition. Back then, it was Romania, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Germany, with Romania winning back-to-back titles. This time around it’s Denmark, France, Spain and Sweden. While some sides earned easy wins to clinch their berths, Spain had to endure a painful extra-time roller-coaster to qualify. Still, all four sides displayed impressive performances to maintain their records in the competition.

Sure, France have been outstanding over the last two decades, Denmark have created a record unbeaten run, Spain have been more and more consistent over the last few years, and Sweden are a true powerhouse, always delivering excellent performances during recent tournaments. But this is a true achievement for all four sides involved and a testament to their consistency, clinching a performance that has been over 60 years in the making, underlining the task at hand for these sides over the last two years. What’s even more interesting is that the same semi-finals as at Egypt 2021 will be played once again, offering a chance for the teams that lost two years ago to avenge those painful defeats.

The mother of all unbeaten streaks

We had talked repeatedly about Denmark’s otherworldly unbeaten run as history was truly created in the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm when the reigning world champions delivered a flawless performance against Hungary to clinch a clear 40:23 win. This tied the largest-ever gap in a quarter-final at the IHF Men’s World Championship, set by Russia against the Republic of Korea 26 years ago. Still, it also handed Denmark their 26th unbeaten match in a row, the longest-ever streak in the history of the competition.

Fate had it that Denmark’s last loss in the world handball flagship competition came in the Round of 16 at France 2017 against Hungary, the same team they served a lesson at Poland/Sweden 2023 with a breathtaking attacking performance in which Denmark were led by a nine-goal outing from right back Mathias Gidsel. In the last four years, the Scandinavian side have secured 24 wins and have had two draws, being in the unique position of becoming the first team to win three titles on the trot if that amazing streak is extended to 28 matches in Stockholm on Sunday.

Clutch Spain make Norway pay for hiccup

Over the last few years, Spain have lost plenty of players, as stalwarts like Raúl Entrerríos and Julen Aguinagalde retired, while for Poland/Sweden 2023, they were down their best wings – Aitor Ariño and Aleix Gómez – due to injuries. Still, Jordi Ribera’s side proved their mettle throughout the whole tournament, losing a single match against France in the last match of the main round in Krakow and somehow survived an epic match against Norway in which they were down one goal with 19 seconds to go, with the ball in Norway’s hands.

Daniel Dujshebaev scored the match-tying goal with two seconds left on the clock in regular time and Spain eventually took a 35:34 win after extra-time, confirming the clutch nature of “Los Hispanos”. Sure, right back Alex Dujshebaev was once again superb with seven goals and six assists as he thrives on excelling in close competitive matches like this one. Still, with plenty of fresh faces in the squad, Spain looked comfortable, never giving up and snatching a win like this once again. Since 2013, they have never finished outside the top 10 and have made it to the semi-finals four times in six tournaments, becoming one of the most consistent sides in the world.

France use depth to create seven-match winning streak

Since 1993, France have made it to the quarter-finals 16 times in a row and to the semi-finals in 14 cases, losing only twice in this phase of the competition – in 1999 and 2013. This will be their fifth semi-final of the IHF Men’s World Championship in a row, with another excellent display against Germany (35:28). In fact, France started the world handball flagship competition with seven wins in a row for the fourth time, winning the title twice and finishing in fourth place once, at Egypt 2021, when they lost the final two matches.

Against Germany, “Les Experts” had another excellent outing, creating the gap in the second half thanks to the saves made by goalkeeper Rémi Desbonnet, who finished the match with 14 shots stopped for an efficiency of 47%, the best match he made while featuring for the national team. And that is just France’s biggest selling point – they repeatedly deliver, riding their excellent depth to overwhelm their opponents. With eight goals scored so far in the tournament, Nikola Karabatić has now improved his overall tally to 289 goals, despite not featuring so prominently in the matches. He is now eyeing his fifth gold medal in the competition in what is looking increasingly likely to be his final edition of the IHF Men’s World Championship.

Can Gidsel write history for Denmark?

Only 20 players have scored at least 60 goals in a single edition of the IHF Men’s World Championship, with a clear leader of the pack, North Macedonia’s Kiril Lazarov, who went the closest to 100 goals at Croatia 2009 with 92 goals. While Lazarov’s performance might still be difficult to beat, another player can enter the list of stalwarts who have scored at least 60 goals in a tournament, and that is Denmark’s Mathias Gidsel.

The top goal scorer at Poland/Sweden 2023 is Chile’s Erwin Feuchtmann, who has 54 goals under his name, but Chile played their last match of the competition on Wednesday when they lost the President’s Cup final against Tunisia. The closest to Feuchtmann is Denmark’s right back Mathias Gidsel, who made the All-Star team at the 2021 IHF Men’s World Championship, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the EHF EURO 2022. Gidsel has scored 51 goals and is on track to become the top goal scorer of the championship, with Denmark featuring in two matches over the final weekend.

Only two Denmark players have sealed the top goal scorer trophy in their careers – Andreas Eggert and Mikkel Hansen – so Gidsel is on the way to writing history, as his excellent ascension to greatness has been superb after only making his debut for the national team in 2021.