29 Jul. 2022
After four years, the IHF Women’s Youth (U18) World Championship will make its comeback in North Macedonia, the first-ever edition with 32 teams at the start. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the previous edition in Croatia in 2020, the best players in the world in this category will take to the court in North Macedonia’s capital Skopje, in three different halls, ready to fight for the coveted gold medal.
With reigning champions Russia a non-starter in the competition, a new champion will enter the history books after 10 match days of handball of the highest quality. But what are the main questions surrounding the ninth edition of the IHF Women’s Youth World Championship?
A first for the competition, the 32-team line-up
Canada 2006 was the first edition of the IHF Women’s Youth World Championship, with 12 teams at the start, one venue in one host city and 38 matches scheduled for the competition. The next edition, Slovakia 2008, had 16 teams at the start, with the competing sides gradually increasing over the years, from 20 at the Dominican Republic 2010 to 24 in the last edition of the competition, held in Hungary.
One month ago, the first-ever IHF Women’s Junior (U20) World Championship with a 32-team line-up took place in Slovenia, being an indicator for how things will unfold at the 2022 IHF Women’s Youth World Championship in North Macedonia, where 32 teams will be present as well.
Mirroring the IHF Women’s World Championship, a 32-team line-up provides a testing ground for emerging sides, while the powerhouses still have to navigate through eight games to secure the gold medal. There is no room for mistake, however, as proven at Slovenia 2022, where Norway were crowned champions without dropping a single game on their way to the gold medal.
A new ball, the Molten “d60 PRO”
Another first at the IHF Women’s Youth World Championship will be the official game ball of the competition, the Molten “d60 PRO”, the first-ever resin-free ball to be used at an IHF World Championship. In a meeting held in July 2019, the IHF Council decided that the first version of the resin-free ball should be used at the 2020 IHF Women’s Youth (U18) World Championship but due to the cancellation of the event, impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of the resin-free game ball was postponed, but will make its long-awaited debut at North Macedonia 2022.
Designed by “nendo”, a company led by Oki Sato, an up-and-coming designer who is active in a wide range of works, including architecture, interior design and graphics, the “d60 PRO” uses a thicker sponge layer and a surface structure with 60 triangle-shaped panels, which contribute to the exceptional grip just as well as the dimples at the centre of the panels. Furthermore, the highly absorbent surface material, which retains moisture, makes the ball less slippery – even when used with sweaty hands.
Through these features, the use of resin for better grip and ball control is rendered unnecessary and the ball can be used in sports venues where the use of resin is prohibited and players practice and play matches without it.
Eight teams to make debut at North Macedonia 2022
With the expansion to a 32-team line-up and this being only the ninth edition of the IHF Women’s Youth World Championship, it was likely that the number of debutants was going to be high. Indeed, eight sides will make their debut in the tournament on Saturday in Skopje, three from Europe and Africa each and two from Asia.
Algeria, Faroe Islands, Guinea, Iceland, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Senegal and Switzerland are, therefore, slated to make their debut, with two pairs – Algeria and Iceland in Group A, and the Islamic Republic of Iran and Senegal in Group B – facing each other in the preliminary round.
While some of the teams have some experience at the highest level, namely Switzerland, who have finished ninth at the W17 EHF EURO 2021, others are emerging teams, who will learn plenty and further develop their sides, while eyeing a more professional and better future for their senior sides.
How many favourites are there?
As reigning champions Russia have been excluded from the competition due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, a new champion will now be crowned in the Boris Trajkovski arena in Skopje on 10 August. But who might be the top candidates for this title? First of all, one cannot see past Hungary, the reigning W17 EHF EURO champions, who swept their opponents on their way to the gold medal last summer. Retaining their main core of players, including the MVP of the W17 EHF EURO 2021, Julia Farkas, All-star goalkeeper Klara Zaj and All-star line player Kata Juhasz, is a huge help for Hungary.
Their results in the Scandinavian Open, a friendly tournament that took place in Denmark, were also good: two clear wins against Norway (31:22) and Sweden (31:17) were followed by a 21:22 loss against hosts Denmark, a team who can spring one or two surprises. Hungary’s path to the title is also difficult, as they face France, Spain and Argentina in the preliminary round, while a game against Norway in the main round is also on the horizon.
Germany were the runners-up at the W17 EHF EURO 2021, boasting the top scorer of the competition, Viola Leuchter. Whether she will keep up that production or not, it is still to be seen, but it will be paramount for Germany’s future in the competition. The draw favoured Germany, but their last friendly match loss against Spain, 24:28 in July, was a big question mark.
The usual suspects like Denmark and Sweden have quite an easy draw on the top part of the table, while Spain had pretty good results in friendly matches, but must win against France or Hungary to progress to the main round.
New stars on the horizon
The 2021 IHF Female Player of the Year, Danish goalkeeper Sandra Toft, was a mainstay for her national team at the first edition of the IHF Women’s Youth World Championship, where the Scandinavian side secured the gold medal. Other players who impressed in this competition were Anna Vyakhireva, Cristina Laslo, Lorena Ostase, Marit Rosberg Jacobsen or Emma Friis – all of whom eventually made their mark in women’s handball.
Who are the players who can impress at North Macedonia 2022? Germany’s back, Viola Leuchter, who has secured the top scorer award at the W17 EHF EURO 2021 is definitely one of the players to watch. Likewise Julia Farkas, Hungary’s back, who was named the MVP in the same tournament.
Sweden’s left wing, Stella Huselius, can also be one of the players to watch, while the Republic of Korea always bring some of the best scorers in the competition to the table.
Photo: German Handball Federation