Trending topics highlight the end of the main round at Poland/Sweden 2023

24 Jan. 2023

Trending topics highlight the end of the main round at Poland/Sweden 2023

The main round of the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship is behind us, as the eight teams still in with a chance to win the coveted trophy are travelling to Gdansk and Stockholm for the final days of the competition. 

After 96 matches elapsed at Poland/Sweden 2023, it is time to check and see what was hot and what was not before looking forward to what projects to be a fiery final of an exciting competition.

Seven teams repeat quarter-finals ascension from Egypt 2021

Seven teams that made it to the quarter-finals at Egypt 2021 are also present in the final week at Poland/Sweden 2023, with Qatar being replaced by Germany among the best eight sides from two years ago. While the pack has not been shuffled, several sides have made improvements from the previous competition, contending for a place in the knock-out phase, with Slovenia, Iceland, Portugal or Croatia still trying to make that break, that little difference that can go a long way in the context of a major international competition.

It has been clear from the start of the championship that several teams can really dominate opponents, like France or Sweden, who have been riding six-match winning streaks on their way to the quarter-finals. For “Les Experts”, this is the 16th time in a row they have reached this phase of the event, a streak dating back to Sweden 1993, when they finished second, earning their first medal in history.

Consistency is key in modern handball, and this is exactly what those powerhouses returning to the quarter-finals are prizing on, delivering good performances time and time again. Still, there is also the small detail of a good system in place that acts like a safeguard, enabling sides to slot in new players without losing their game plan and ethos.

Denmark set otherworldly unbeaten streak

The last time Denmark lost a match at the IHF Men’s World Championship was in January 2017, and the Scandinavian side were still building this golden generation they are riding on the way to medals. At that time, Denmark were handed a shock loss at the hands of Hungary in the Round of 16 at France 2017. Still, since that moment, Nikolaj Jacobsen’s side has created a superb 25-match unbeaten streak, tying the best run in the history of the competition, set by France.

Only two matches ended in a draw, the epic quarter-final against the hosts at Egypt 2021, which Denmark eventually won in the penalty shoot-out, and a main round match against Croatia here, but this has been a remarkable run for the reigning world champions. Over the last three editions of the world handball flagship competition, Denmark have scored a remarkable 829 goals, an average of 33.1 goals per match, while dominating other powerhouses and finding new weapons on attack, like backs Mathias Gidsel and Simon Pytlick, ensuring their future as a true contender for years to come. Coincidentally, Denmark will set the best-ever streak in the history of the competition if they do not lose in regular time against Hungary in the quarter-finals, exactly the team they lost their last match against at the IHF Men’s World Championship.

No luck for Poland

Co-hosts Poland entered the tournament with big expectations, but everything unravelled for them after a painful 23:32 loss against Slovenia in the preliminary round. It was a result that made a quarter-final berth a mission impossible for Patryk Rombel’s side, who needed three wins in the main round and other results to go their way. They only sealed two wins in the end, against the Islamic Republic of Iran and Montenegro, and while their game improved, it was too little, too late. Poland finished fourth in their group and ended up in 15th place in the final standings, just shy of their worst-ever placement, the 17th place at France 2017.

“We are not happy because we wanted to fight for medals, for the Olympic Games qualification, but the loss against Slovenia, where we played very badly, ended all hopes. We regret that because we know that we can play better,” said Poland’s captain, Piotr Chrapkowski. Still, Poland have plenty of young talent, with Szymon Sićko and Arkadiusz Moryto combining for 61 goals, while centre backs Piotr Jędraszczyk and Michal Olejniczak also showed flashes of brilliance.

Poland need to reassess the future of coach Patryk Rombel, whose contract ends in March 2023, but will also need to reflect on how they can maximise this team, with changes needed to be done in the short term as they are still one of the European sides with plenty of potential.

A head-to-head race between Gidsel and Knorr for the top goal scorer title?

The race for the top goal scorer title is as hot as ever, with Chile’s Erwin Feuchtmann leading the pack with 46 goals, one more than Iceland’s left wing Bjarki Már Elísson and two more than Dutch right back Kay Smits. The caveat is that both Elísson and Smits are out of the competition. At the same time, Chile still have to play the final of the President’s Cup against Tunisia, where Feuchtmann will probably break the 50-goal mark if his output remains on par with the first six matches.

However, the biggest candidate to win the top goal scorer trophy is Denmark’s right back Mathias Gidsel, the MVP at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Gidsel’s side still has three matches to play in the final week, which enables the stalwart to take centre stage. His teammate Mikkel Hansen, who has scored 32 goals, is also in the mix, albeit somewhat further away, as is Germany’s left back Juri Knorr, who has scored 37 times, one of the players that stole the show at Poland/Sweden 2023.

16th quarter-final in a row for France

France have extended their streak of quarter-final berths to an astonishing 16 tournaments in a row at the IHF Men’s World Championship after starting the competition with six straight wins for the fourth time in history. “Les Experts” have won the competition two of the previous three times. They achieved this when they hosted the tournament in 2001 and 2017, while finishing fourth at Egypt 2021 when they lost both their semi-final and the bronze medal match.

Only one team in history – Sweden (128 wins) – have won more matches than France at the IHF Men’s World Championship, with Guillaume Gille’s side securing 119 wins in the competition. They have also lost only seven of their last 70 matches in the world handball flagship competition, winning 11 medals since 1993, missing out on the podium only four times in this time – finishing sixth at Egypt 1999 and Spain 2013, and fourth at Germany 2007 and Egypt 2021.

A new record for goals scored?

After 96 matches at the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship, we are on course to have the highest-scoring tournament in history. The previous record, 57.8 goals per match, set at Germany 2007, has been bettered at this stage of the competition, with the 96 matches played so far at Poland/Sweden 2023 witnessing 5556 goals scored. It translates into an average of 57.87 goals per match. Therefore, it will be nip and tuck until the final match of the competition, the big final, scheduled for Sunday, 29 January in the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm.

The highest-scoring match so far was the one between Brazil and Iceland in the main round, with the two sides combining for 78 goals in Iceland’s 41:37 win, with 40 goals scored at the break. Three other matches went over 70 goals in the competition so far, as this will surely be one of the top three tournaments in terms of goal average in the history of the competition.