A left wing turned a top centre back: Pedersen’s challenging rise to the top at Croatia 2023

12 Aug. 2023

A left wing turned a top centre back: Pedersen’s challenging rise to the top at Croatia 2023

Denmark have been here before, just 60 minutes away from the title at the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship. In fact, no team has ever won the trophy more times than Denmark – three – with stars like Niklas Landin, Simon Hald or Magnus Landin helping their side win this competition before going on and sealing titles at the IHF Men’s World Championship.

But only once in their history have Denmark secured seven wins in a row and went on to the final at the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, in 2013, when Hald, a top-line player, helped his side clinch the trophy and also went on to seal the MVP award.

Before Croatia 2023, Denmark had a 100% record in the finals they played at the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, one which they hope to preserve, create another flawless run and seal the fourth trophy in nine editions, which would certainly cement their place as the most decorated country in the competition.

That road leads through a do-or-die match with another team riding a seven-game winning streak, Spain, but Denmark look well-equipped for any challenge. The Scandinavian side has the second-best attack in the competition, with 270 goals scored in seven games, an average of 38.5 goals per game.

Much of that is due to their excellent system, which can deliver excellent performances against any opposition. And with a particular trend which was exacerbated by the emergence of Mathias Gidsel or Simon Pytlick, much of that success is due to Denmark’s excellent back line, which can constantly deliver pressure, irrespective of the shape of the defence they have in front.

While this is truly a collective effort, Denmark would have surely found themselves in more precarious positions were it not for their centre back, Frederik Emil Pedersen, who was named the hummel Player of the Match in four of Denmark’s seven games so far, constantly creating chances for himself and putting his teammates in excellent positions.

No Denmark player has scored more goals than Pedersen – 50 – with right back Lasse Sunesen Vilhemsen managing 33 goals so far in the second place, with Pedersen also dishing 20 assists, just one shy of Denmark’s leader in that category, Vilhemsen.

“It has really been a team effort so far. I am so proud of this team; it has been an amazing journey,” says Pedersen about Denmark reaching the final once again at the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship.

“We fought hard, we had some difficult matches, but here we are, just one step away from the trophy, so we are going to do everything to win it,” adds the centre back.

So far, Denmark have been truly dominating, taking a 32:21 win against Chile, a 49:21 win against Mexico and a 43:28 win against Austria in the preliminary round, following up with a 37:30 win against North Macedonia and a 35:29 win over Norway in the main round.

A 35:25 win against Portugal in the quarter-finals and a 39:35 win over Egypt in the semi-finals just sealed Denmark’s place in the big final in the Varaždin Arena, with the Scandinavian side scoring at least 32 goals in each game so far at Croatia 2023, an outstanding performance, the only team to manage that feature so far.

Each time, Pedersen was the lightning rod for Denmark, despite being usually taken into man-to-man marking, his performances all but guaranteeing special attention from the opposing defence.

“In my club team, I am not necessarily used to that, so I will not lie, it has been difficult at times, both mentally and physically, to be marked man-to-man because there is not much you can do, honestly. But I had the help of my team and my teammates and we just managed to win game after game, so that is amazing,” adds Pedersen.

Indeed, he was marked man-to-man for most of the game against Egypt, but he still was his team’s top scorer, with nine goals, the same number he put up on the board in the game against Portugal.

Yet everything could have been really different for Denmark’s centre back, a certain candidate for the All-Star team, when it will be announced on Sunday, after the conclusion of the Croatia 2023 final.

He started handball as a left wing, slowly getting into the centre back position, where he is momentarily thriving, both for the youth national team, but also at Ajax Kobenhavn, his club side in Denmark.

“I will be honest,” smiles Pedersen, “I wanted to play as a centre back because I wanted the ball in my hands. My favourite player back in the day was Uwe Gensheimer, he was excellent on the left wing position,” concludes Denmark’s centre back, who will lead his team once again on Sunday.

Photos: Croatia 2023/Kolektiff images