Five takeaways after the preliminary round

08 Dec. 2021

Five takeaways after the preliminary round

With 48 games finished at the 25th IHF Women’s World Championship, it is high time to draw some conclusions after the end of the preliminary round, as 24 teams embark on their way to the main round, while another eight continue in the President’s Cup.

We take a look on who’s who in attack, underline some great defensive stats, but we also share the emotions which make this competition so amazing, learning a thing or two about being humble and what makes players great role models.

Iran’s feel-good story makes the world a happier place

The first-ever IHF Women’s World Championship with 32 teams had only one rookie in the competition, the Islamic Republic of Iran, with three other teams – Slovakia, Puerto Rico and Uzbekistan – taking part only for the second time in the women’s flagship event. While the gulf in class between some sides has been big, they also provided some amazing life stories, like the one shared by Iranian goalkeeper Fatemeh Khalili Behfar. 

Iran were never going to set the world alight at Spain 2021, especially after being drawn in Group C alongside Norway, Romania and Kazakhstan, but Khalili Behfar wrote her own history, with superb displays against the two European powerhouses the Asian team faced. In fact, the Iran’s goalkeeper stopped 30 shots in her first three games, only trailing Danish stalwart Sandra Toft in the number of saves made in the preliminary round. She also received the hummel Player of the Match award in the game against Norway, which prompted an outpour of emotions from Khalili Behfar, her teammates and the Norwegian side. It was the moment at Spain 2021 so far, which was played over 200,000 times on Facebook and over 330,000 times on Twitter.

Three teams in Group II share the podium as the best attacks

By securing big wins against Puerto Rico and Uzbekistan and continuing their superb form against Sweden, reigning champions the Netherlands secured the first place in the attacking standings after the end of the preliminary round. In fact, it is a record at the IHF Women’s World Championship, as no team scored that many goals in their first three games in the competition. However, after Lois Abbingh became the top scorer at Japan 2019 with 71 goals, no Dutch player is currently among the best 10 goal scorers at Spain 2021, with right Debbie Bont leading the way for the Netherlands, in 15th place with 17 goals.

Sweden (125 goals scored) and Norway (120 goals scored) are two of the other three teams to have passed the 100-goals mark after the preliminary round, with Denmark (103 goals) lagging behind. Coincidentally, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway will be pitted together in Group II of the main round, guaranteeing high-octane matches in the next six days.

Seven teams with immaculate records

Seven teams still boast an immaculate record at Spain 2021, six of which come from Europe and one from South America, Brazil. It is hard to put the finger on the team who impressed the most, but judging from the potential shown on the court, it could be Norway, who are boasting the second-biggest goal difference in the competition after three games, +71, 10 goals behind the Netherlands, the only group winner from the preliminary round to fail to secure the maximum amount of points after drawing with Sweden in their last game, 31:31.

France, RHF, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and hosts Spain are the other sides who will start the main round with the maximum amount of points, as bona-fide favourites to proceed to the knockout phase of the competition, boasting at least a two-point advantage over their rivals. But anything can happen in the main round, as proven time and time again at IHF Women’s World Championships, with surprises popping every time.

Goals galore at Spain 2021 

Spain 2021 is on par to become the highest scoring tournament at the IHF Women’s World Championship, since France 2007, where the 24 teams combined for an average of 55.26 goals per game. Right up until this point in the tournament, with 48 games done and dusted from the 108 scheduled, 2,638 goals have been scored, or an average of 54.96 goals per game, nearly one more per game than at Japan 2019. The attacking output from some of the teams has been otherworldly, with the trend expecting to continue, as sides face kindred opponents, both in the main round and in the President’s Cup, which both throw off today.

There have also been outstanding individual performances, with Sweden’s right wing Nathalie Hagman leading the way with 19 goals, two less than the individual all-time record set at the IHF Women’s World Championship by North Macedonia’s Natalia Todorovska against Cameroon at Russia 2005. Another eight players – Slovenia’s Ana Gros (12 goals), Montenegro’s Jovanka Radicevic (12 goals), Uzbekistan’s Marina Khudoykulova (10 goals), Hungary’s Katrin Klujber (11 goals), Czech Republic’s Marketa Jerabkova (10 goals), Congo’s Diane Yimga (11 goals), Austria’s Katarina Pandza (10 goals) and Argentina’s Elke Karsten (11 goals) – went into double digits at Spain 2021.

Money can’t buy experience

There have been some amazing performances by goalkeepers during this tournament, with four of them recording a saving percentage higher than 50% in the first three matches, but none of them has been more efficient than Sweden’s Martina Thorn, who stopped 12 of the 21 shots she faced for an extraordinary 57% efficiency. The usual suspects are there, with the Germany 2017 All-star goalkeeper Katrine Lunde in fourth place, with 25 saves for a 50% saving efficiency, as the podium is completed by Denmark’s Althea Reinhardt (55% saving efficiency) and Spain’s veteran, Silvia Navarro (54%).

Coincidentally, Navarro and Lunde are the most experienced players at Spain 2021, the only ones in the competition aged over 40 years, which teaches a lesson or two about continuity, consistency and experience at the highest level.