Examining Group B: Co-hosts face tough challenge with two other European sides in the group

21 Nov. 2022

Examining Group B: Co-hosts face tough challenge with two other European sides in the group

Poland have been handed a monster challenge at the start of their journey at the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship, which they will be co-hosting with Sweden in what seems to be, at least on paper, one of the toughest preliminary round groups in the competition.

Only three sides will progress to the main round and take their points against the other qualified teams into the next phase of the competition. Therefore, the results will be crucial for improving their chances for a better placement at the end of the competition.

Three European sides, that have all won a medal in the last decade, will be facing off in the group, with an ambitious Saudi Arabia team ready to make gains against them. Yet, Poland, France and Slovenia are the big favourites to progress to the main round.

Co-hosts Poland have been on the podium three times in the last eight editions of the world men’s handball flagship event, with a silver medal at Germany 2007 and bronze medals at Croatia 2009 and Qatar 2015. Since the latter tournament though, they finished 17th at France 2017, missed the championship altogether at Denmark/Germany 2019 and came in 13th at Egypt 2021.

Their challenge to be back at the top will be stiff, albeit eased by the thousands of fans who will flock to the Spodek in Katowice and to the Tauron Arena in Krakow, provided the co-hosts qualify for the main round.

Their head-to-head record against France does not make for good reading for Patryk Rombel’s team, that has won only one and drew another game of the eight games they played against the most decorated team in the history of the competition.

Coincidentally though, Poland’s only win against France came at the EHF EURO 2016, also in the preliminary round, when they finished off the group with their third win (31:25) in as many matches against “Les Experts”. Yet France still hold an unassailable lead in the mutual matches, as the last game between the two sides, a friendly, ended with a 29:15 clear win for France.

The two teams played against each other two times at the IHF Men’s World Championship, with France taking a 31:22 win in the main round at Germany 2007 and a 26:25 win in the preliminary round at France 2017.

Poland’s chances will also be hampered by their head-to-head record against Slovenia, with the co-hosts taking only two wins in nine matches against Slovenia, failing to win a single game at a major tournament since the EHF EURO 2008 when they secured a 33:27 win.

The two teams split wins when they faced each other at the IHF Men’s World Championship, with Poland taking a 38:27 win against Slovenia at Germany 2017 and their rivals avenging that loss with a 25:24 win six years later in the preliminary round.
In all the competitive matches they played, including qualifications, Slovenia have won six games, while Poland clinched four wins and one game ended in a stalemate (30:30) at the EHF EURO 2010.

Slovenia have sealed a berth at the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship through a wild-card, after failing to progress from Qualification Europe. Still, their pedigree is enough to deliver a surprise or two in the competition.

However, their head-to-head record against France is favourable to the reigning Olympic champions, who have won eight of the 11 matches played in major tournaments, including the last six ones in a row.

In fact, Slovenia’s last win against France came at the EHF EURO 2004 (27:22), with “Les Experts” winning all but one of the five matches played in the world handball flagship competition, which ended in a stalemate (26:26) at Tunisia 2005.

With a team undergoing a severe rebuild, Slovenia will have their work cut out, needing excellent games to take something against Poland and France, while they will surely be favoured against Saudi Arabia.

The Asian side did not win a single game against any European side in history and will be the underdog in all three matches, judging by the head-to-head records at the IHF Men’s World Championship against their opponents.

They lost twice against Poland – 14:28 at Spain 2013 and 13:32 at Qatar 2015 –, twice against Slovenia – 22:35 at France 2001 and 22:32 at Spain 2013 – and once against France – 23:30 at Portugal 2003 – with a mountain to climb if they want to qualify for the first time from the preliminary round.