Six talking points after a stunning 2023 IHF Women's World Championship

21 Dec. 2023

Six talking points after a stunning 2023 IHF Women's World Championship

The first-ever edition of the IHF Women’s World Championship to be co-hosted by three countries did not disappoint. There was drama, there were high-intensity matches, but there could only be one winner and that was France, for the third time in history, after a flawless performance, nine wins out of nine matches until lifting the trophy in the Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning.

There was more though than France’s win throughout the three weeks of competition in six venues in Denmark, Norway and Sweden and we are reviewing what was hot at the 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship in this feature.

Unbeaten France write history

Since Russia won the title on home court in 2005, 18 years ago, no team has ever won the trophy by going on a winning streak from the start of the competition until the final. However, back in 2005, Russia needed only eight wins to clinch the trophy, while France went on a nine-game winning streak at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023, with some exquisite performances, especially in the business end of the competition.

It was not plain sailing, especially in the first match of the preliminary round in Stavanger, where France had plenty of nerves and survived a late Angola attack to take a 30:29 win. In the main round, the Olympic champions also had a close call against Norway, 24:23, but a comeback from a slow start was exactly what they needed to confirm their credentials.

Olivier Krumbholz’s side provided some astonishing matches, combining their usual strong defence with an outstanding fast-paced attack and trademark team spirit, creating one of the best run-ins to the trophy in history, as several players became world champions for the second time in history, while Krumbholz himself earned his third gold medal and his seventh in total at the IHF Women’s World Championship.

Spectators flock to see their favourites

Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023 provided one of the best environments for women’s handball in history, as the three co-hosts put up an excellent show, for both players and spectators alike. In fact, this edition of the IHF Women’s World Championship brought the largest number of spectators in history, 344,399, an average of 3,075 spectators per match, breaking the record set at Denmark 2015.

This is the third time in history when over 300,000 fans were in the stands, as Herning, Frederikshavn, Helsingborg, Gothenburg, Stavanger and Trondheim saw their arenas fill up. The final day, with the battle for the trophy between France and Norway, and the bronze medal match between Denmark and Sweden, saw the Jyske Bank Boxen sold out, with 12,031 spectators for the final. 10 matches – nine in Herning and one in Gothenburg – also saw over 10,000 spectators in the stands, as fans flocked to see their favourites in action.

Czech delight in the top goal scorer standings

At 27 years old, Markéta Jeřábková has entered her prime, with the Czech left back delivering for the national team, after being a crucial player for Vipers Kristiansand when they won the EHF Champions League Women trophy in 2022 and 2023. Czechia was surely one of the biggest surprises at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023, but nothing could have been achieved without Jeřábková, who was the top goal scorer of the competition, with 63 goals.

The left back had the second best average number of goals scored per match, 7, after Romania’s Eliza Buceschi, who scored 7.83 goals per match, but also delivered some excellent performances, having an overall 57% shooting efficiency. Jeřábková also added 39 assists, as she scored nine goals twice and 11 goals in the loss against Brazil, being instrumental in Czechia’s performance and the eighth place in the final standings.

Jeřábková also unlocked plenty of potential for other players, as Czechia was the only side with three players in the top 10 of the top goal scorer standings, with Veronika Malá finishing sixth, with 46 goals, while 21-year-old future star Charlotte Cholevová finished 10th, with 41 goals.

Reistad shines in coming of age competition

52 goals from 70 shots for a 74% shooting efficiency, enough for the second place in the top goal scorer standings. 24 assists, four penalties drawn, six suspensions drawn and a 15-goal performance in the classic against Denmark in the semi-finals. Probably there is not a player with a higher profile than Henny Reistad right now in women’s handball and the left back surely deserved her MVP plaudits, the second time when she entered the All-Star team at the IHF Women’s World Championship, after she was the top left back at Spain 2021.

Reistad broke the record for the number of goals scored by a single player for Norway in her 15-goal outing against Denmark, but is still to break into the top-10 in the number of goals scored in history for the Scandinavian team. She has 324 under her belt so far, but has the third best average number of goals per match, 4.11, after Kjersti Grini (4.99) and Nora Mørk (4.82).

Only 24 years old of age, Reistad has the future ahead of her and Norway look to be one of the contenders for the top places in the major international competitions as long as they have Reistad, as she has two medals at the IHF Women’s World Championship, two titles at the EHF EURO and one bronze medal at the Olympic Games since making her debut in the national team in 2018.

Krumbholz and Hergeirsson add more silverware to their cabinet

With 12 medals in major international competitions – including a treble at the IHF Women’s World Championship, the EHF EURO and the Olympic Games, Olivier Krumbholz is one of the most decorated coaches in the history of women’s handball and his return on the bench for “Les Bleuses” in 2016 kickstarted one of the most successful periods in the history of the team, with four major titles – at the 2017 and 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship, the EHF EURO 2018 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – in the bag for France.

For Krumbholz, this was likely the last edition of the IHF Women’s World Championship, as he announced his retirement after the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, where his team will be one of the favourites to deliver another gold medal in the swansong. However, Krumbholz added even more to his legacy at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023, especially as the title was won on Scandinavian soil.

In the final, Krumbholz beat Norway once again, but Thorir Hergeirsson added another medal to his collection. Basically, since taking over in 2009, Norway’s coach led his team to 14 podiums in major international competitions, missing out on a medal just three times – at the 2013 and 2019 IHF Women’s World Championship editions and at the EHF EURO 2018.

Quality improves with non-European sides clinching big wins

Sure, there were eight European sides between the top eight at the IHF Women’s World Championship and nine between the top 10, with Brazil being the odd one out, yet non-European sides delivered some excellent performances, surprising powerhouses with exquisite games.

Naturally, the biggest shock was Japan’s win over Denmark, 26:25, which was the Asian side’s biggest-ever win at the IHF Women’s World Championship, despite winning against other European sides in their history. The feeling was improved even more by the fact that Denmark were the co-hosts and the win came in front of a packed Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning, with Danish fans left stunned in their seats.

Japan also lost by a single goal against Germany, two goals against Poland and four goals against Romania, while securing another win against Serbia, on their way to finish on the 17th place. However, this was a huge improvement for the Asian side, which proved they can challenge with the best sides in the world.

Brazil finished ninth, as the top non-European side, with a win against Czechia, while Senegal also impressed, throwing off their performance at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023 with a draw against Croatia, 22:22, which hampered the European side’s efforts to reach the quarter-finals, as that point would have mattered a lot in their quest.