From emerging nation to dark horse: Why are the Faroe Islands a team to watch at Germany/Greece 2023

22 Jun. 2023

From emerging nation to dark horse: Why are the Faroe Islands a team to watch at Germany/Greece 2023

The GETEC Arena in Magdeburg can hold 7,782 fans, which means that a seventh of the entire population of the Faroe Islands can fit into the arena. In fact, the city of Magdeburg, which has roughly 250,000 inhabitants, has a population five times higher than the entire Faroe Islands. 

Those are the rough numbers to put into perspective just how impressive of a journey the Faroe Islands have had in handball over the last few years. It all started at the IHF Men's Emerging Nations Championship, where they won in the inaugural edition in 2015 and secured back-to-back wins two years later.

In 2017, the Faroe Islands also made it to the IHF Men's Junior World Championship for the first time, where they ended up on the 16th place. Now, the senior team qualified for the first time for a major international tournament, the EHF EURO 2024, while the junior team is at Germany/Greece 2023 with big ambitions.

But where did the success come from? How did they sneak in among the top teams in the world, and how organic was this unprecedented growth that has transformed the European side into fans' darlings?

"We had a lot of volunteers who did a lot of work to help the handball in the Faroe Islands. We are very good at volunteer work in our home country, and they did a very good job. Outside of that, it is just passion and a thing that runs in families, basically, taking up sports and learning to play them," says Elias Ellefsen á Skipagøtu, one of the best players in the Faroe Islands.

Ellefsen á Skipagøtu has just turned 21 before the 2023 IHF Men's Junior World Championship and will feature for the last time at the junior level at Germany/Greece 2023. He was integral in bringing the Faroe senior team to the EHF EURO 2024, with his experience lifting the team to a place in the final tournament.

But his emergence on the big stages has been superb after joining Swedish side IK Sävehof in 2020 from Faroese champions H71 Hoyvik. The centre back was named the MVP of the Swedish league in 2022, won the title with his team in 2021 and will now switch to a true powerhouse in European handball, THW Kiel, after Germany/Greece 2023.

"I fell in love early with handball because my father played the sport; I liked it from the start. I think this is the same for my teammates, because we are quite a small country."

"In the Faroe Islands, the halls are always open, we were going every day there, taking some friends, one of which was always a goalkeeper, and we were always practising for a few hours, just for fun. We got better and better, I would say, all of us we were playing handball in our free time," says Faroe's centre back.

Handball is a family affair for the Skipagøtus, with his mother, Gunn, being the president of the Faroe Islands Handball Federation, while his brother, Roi, is also part of the junior squad at Germany/Greece 2023, scoring four goals against Angola in Faroe's 34:21 win.

In fact, even Ellefsen á Skipagøtu's cousins, Pauli, Oli and Jana, are handball players, with Pauli being in the Faroe Islands squad at Germany/Greece 2023, while Oli is also a diamond in the rough, making his mark at the M18 EHF EURO 2022 last summer, where he was the top goal scorer and the MVP of the competition.

It is interesting, though, to see that such a star player like Ellefsen á Skipagøtu is still featuring in the junior team. He was an integral part of the senior team which secured the berth for the EHF EURO 2024, as well as right wing Hákun West av Teigum, who will also make the switch to the Bundesliga this summer, signing for Füchse Berlin, the EHF European League Men winners.

West av Teigum, who scored in double digits in two EHF EURO 2024 Qualification games against Romania and Austria, was also one of the top scorers for Faroe against Angola, combining for 14 goals with Ellefsen á Skipagøtu.

"It is always nice to play for the junior team; we are all friends, we have started handball quite at the same time, and we are all together; we are a true team. It is fun. It is amazing to be able to play handball and represent our country in competitions such as this," adds the centre back.

But this is not only about taking part in the competition and seeing whatever results come in the Faroe Islands' way. Last summer, at the M20 EHF EURO 2022, they secured the first-ever win against Denmark in a team sport, clinching a dramatic 34:33 win in the preliminary round, a shock for everybody, but not for the Faroese team, which duly believed in themselves.

Can shocks like this be repeated at Germany/Greece 2023? Ellefsen á Skipagøtu definitely thinks so, and if the European side can replicate their form displayed against Angola when they won 34:21 in the opener in Magdeburg, they surely have a thing or two going their way.

"I think we can go far. The first goal is to qualify for the main round. And then we'll see from there," says Faroe's centre back.

Another giant slaying might be on the cards with the Faroe Islands facing Spain in Magdeburg on Friday, after the game against Japan on Thursday, where the European side might secure their tickets to the main round.

"Can we win? Of course, we will try to do it," concludes Ellefsen á Skipagøtu.