Will this be the year that Denmark’s men’s handball team finally break their World Championship duck and lift a trophy that has eluded them for nearly 80 years?
Judging by Denmark’s results leading up to the tournament, their Olympic triumph six months ago, and their relatively easy preliminary group stage, Mikkel Hansen and company will certainly be among the favourites in France once the tournament starts on Wednesday.
“The team has enjoyed a good atmosphere. We are Olympic champions after all, and that’s a good feeling that I think will help us,” Gudmundur Gudmundsson, Denmark’s coach, told TV2 News.
“But now we are entering a phase that is extremely important – the final days before the first game against Argentina – and I think we’ll focus a lot on attacking offensive defences this week. But we’ll also look at our defence and improving it even more.”
As part of the Bygma Cup held in Denmark leading up to the tournament, the Danes impressed, strongly suggesting they will be in it to win it with victories over Hungary, Iceland and Group D foes Egypt over the weekend.
The Danes were fortunate with the draw for the preliminary group stage, drawing Sweden, Egypt, Argentina, Qatar and Bahrain.
With all due respect to the non-European teams, the fewer teams from Europe the better, and Group D has only two European teams in it, while the other three groups have four. Having said that, Qatar did make the final on home turf in the last World Championship in 2015 (after hastily nationalising loads of players from Europe).
The tournament starts on Wednesday, but Denmark won’t play its first game until Friday – against Argentina, a team Denmark faced in the opening match in 2015 and laboured to a 24-24 draw against. Denmark went on to lose 24-25 to Spain in the quarter-finals and ended up fifth.
Lifting the curse?
Following their first Olympic gold in Rio last summer, the World Championship is the only major trophy missing from Denmark’s trophy cabinet.
And they will have to fight hard to lift an apparent curse, as Denmark has reached ten semi-finals since 1938, finishing fourth six times, third once and runner-up three times (most recently twice in a row from 2011-2013).
The Danes, though, are clearly one of the strongest sides of the last decade, having won two European Championships (in 2008 and 2012) and of course its recent Olympic triumph last year.