AustriaCoach: Herbert Müller
After 12 years of absence from the world stage, Austria finally returned to the 2021 IHF World Championships in Spain. But there was no happy ending to that story as the team led by head coach Herbert Müller had to improvise throughout the whole tournament due to players testing positive for COVID-19. However, they managed to proceed to the main round and finished their campaign with a win against Croatia, ending up on the 16th place.
Hopes were high to qualify for the second time in a row at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023 as they defeated Finland in the first round of the European qualification. They faced Spain in the second phase, knowing that they had lost to them 31:19 at Spain 2021. The doubleheader turned out to be the most balanced one between the 10 doubleheaders. The first leg ended in a 28:28 tie and the second leg was almost as close as the first one. However, a strong ending lifted Spain past Austria, resulting in a two-goal win.
Two and a half months later, the International Handball Federation announced the awarding of one of the two Wildcards to Austria for the 2023 IHF World Championship. The relief and joy on the Austrian side was huge. They have a good team that can now further develop on the international stage and be even more prepared for their home campaign in 2024, when they will co-host the EHF EURO 2024 with Hungary and Switzerland, ending a 16-year absence in that competition.
In the partial absence of players due to COVID-19 at Spain 2021, such as team captain and goalkeeper Petra Blazek or centre back Sonja Frey who has been an absolute leader for this team, other players stepped in. Back court player Katarina Pandza had a difficult debut at Spain 2021 because she had been out due to COVID-19 as well. Nevertheless, when she was on court, she was on fire and confirmed her performance in the European qualification doubleheader against Spain with eight goals.
Handball talent runs through the blood of the Ivancok sisters with Ines playing on the left back position and Lena between the posts. The siblings played a solid World Championship and are good assets for the team. Another huge asset to the team is Patricia Kovacs who was top scorer for her team at Spain 2021 with 43 goals. Austria seem to produce a lot of good back court players but they also have fast and goal-hungry wings such as Nina Neidhart.
At the sideline of the Austrian team stands a tower of strength. Since 2004, the Romanian-German Herbert Müller has been the head coach. He seems to like this stability, as he is also in charge of the German club Thüringer HC for 13 years, winning the German Championship seven times with this team. He also tested positive for COVID-19 and will be happy to return healthy and in person to the world stage as he already had been in the years from 2005 to 2009.
The Austrian squad will start their campaign in Stavanger, Norway. Group C isn’t an easy one, as they will face the unbeaten 2022 Asian Champions Republic of Korea, followed by the berth against co-hosts and reigning World Champions Norway. It looks like the perfect setup for a final clash for a main round spot in the last preliminary round match against Greenland. After Greenland’s debut in 2001, they have now qualified after 22 years as the 2023 North America and Caribbean Champions.
Key players: Petra Blazek (goalkeeper), Sonja Frey (centre back), Katarina Pandza (left back)
Qualification for DEN/NOR/SWE 2023: Wildcard
History in tournament: 1957: 6th, 1986: 12th, 1990: 5th, 1993: 8th, 1995: 8th, 1997: 11th, 1999: 3rd, 2001: 7th, 2003: 11th, 2005: 13th, 2007: 16th, 2009: 10th, 2021: 16th
Group at DEN/NOR/SWE 2023: Group C (Norway, Republic of Korea, Greenland, Austria)