Examining Group A: Co-hosts Sweden start as favourites

01 Oct. 2023

Examining Group A: Co-hosts Sweden start as favourites

The 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship is just around the corner and we are now starting to preview the most-eagerly awaited competition in women’s handball, which is due to take place in Denmark, Norway and Sweden between 29 November and 17 December.

32 teams are at the start, divided into eight groups of four teams each, with the first three teams in each group progressing to the main round, while the sides that finish on the last place are heading to the President’s Cup.

While Denmark and Norway have both hosted the competition in the past, for Sweden this is the first time when they will play on their home court, with the preliminary and the main rounds hosted by the Scandinavium in Gothenburg.

The Scandinavian side will be the favourites in Group A, where they will face Croatia, the People’s Republic of China and Senegal, with the fiery Swedish fans hoping to provide the missing ingredient for their side to seal three wins out of three matches.

Coach Tomas Axnér has been in place in the position of coach of the Sweden women’s national team since 2020 and has had extended time to put his ideas into place. With a clear direction and a strong and experienced side, Sweden are aiming high hoping to improve their best-ever result in the world handball flagship competition, a 4th place at Germany 2017.

Sweden came seventh at Japan 2019 and fifth at Spain 2021, as well as fifth at the EHF EURO 2022, which means that they are one of the most consistent teams in world handball right now, having five consecutive top-10 finishes at the IHF Women’s World Championship.

However, their head-to-head record against Croatia is split, with seven wins apiece in the 14 mutual matches played between the two sides. The last meeting was at the EHF EURO 2022, when Sweden took a 31:27 win in the main round, as Sweden now have four wins in a row against their European counterparts.

Sweden will also bring some heavy weapons to the fight, including the top goal scorer at the previous edition of the IHF Women’s World Championship, Nathalie Hagman, who scored 71 goals at Spain 2021.

Moreover, Sweden’s status as favourites is also confirmed by their head-to-head record against another side in the group, the People’s Republic of China, with the two teams locking horns in two of the previous four editions of the IHF Women’s World Championship. Both meetings were scheduled in the preliminary round, with Sweden taking a 47:28 win at Denmark 2015 and a 32:19 win at Japan 2019.

Croatia returned to the IHF Women’s World Championship in 2021 after a 10-year hiatus, as they finished on the 18th place, with only two wins in six matches, a big letdown after they had previously secured the bronze medal at the EHF EURO 2020.

They have only met the People’s Republic of China once, at Russia 2005, in the preliminary round, when they took a 35:29 win against the Asian side. However, Croatia will be hit by some crucial misses, with line player Ana Debelić out due to pregnancy, while another crucial line player, Katarina Ježić, is injured and might miss the competition.

The People’s Republic of China are featuring in their 18th consecutive edition of the World Championship, with the eighth place in 1990 being their best-ever result. In the last edition, China withdrew during the President’s Cup, due to a COVID-19 outbreak in their squad, finishing in 32nd place.

Last, but not least, Senegal are the least experienced side in the group, featuring only for the second time in the world handball flagship competition, returning to the fore after finishing on the 18th place at Japan 2019.

Senegal lost all their matches played against European competition at Japan 2019, but they added some pressure on Romania back then, losing by only five goals, 24:29. Senegal qualified for Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023 only after finishing fourth at the 2022 CAHB African Women’s Handball Championship, dropping the semi-final against Angola, 21:24, after extra-time, as well as the bronze-medal match against Congo, 19:20.

But with several players featuring in the French leagues, Senegal are used to playing against strong sides, adding some more pressure to their opponents, as they might prove to be a dark horse.