Danes survive dismal second half to progress

Mikkel Hansen will need to bring his A game to give Denmark a chance of lifting a first world title

Denmark last night beat Hungary in the quarter-finals of the Men's World Handball Championship. Leading by seven points at half-time, the Danes survived a comeback in the second half that took the Hungarians to within one goal with just 90 seconds remaining.

But then a Henrik Mølgaard goal silenced the Hungarian fans in Spain to see Denmark through 28-26. They now face Croatia in the semis on Friday. Croatia yesterday demolished defending champs France 30-23.

Once again, Mikkel Hansen had a quiet game, and for the entire second half, he was outshone by Hungary’s beast of a playmaker, the 2.09m, 113kg Laszlo Nagy, who seemed to score every time he shot.

Denmark remain undefeated and have now won seven straight games: Russia, Iceland, Macedonia, Chile and Qatar in the group, Tunisia in the last 16, and Hungary.

They are 16/5 third favourites (Bet 365), behind hosts Spain, to lift the trophy, and are generally 6/4 to beat Croatia, who are even money favourites to progress.  

Heading into the tournament, they were the fourth favourites, but as the tournament has progressed, the draw has opened up for them. Their group was the easiest of the four, and they’ve so far managed to avoid the toughest nations: France, Germany, Croatia and Spain.

It is worth noting that there are only five remaining players from the squad that won gold at the 2008 European Handball Championships – an encouraging sign for the future.  The Danish squad this year is one of the youngest in the competition. Aside from its handful of veterans, 11 of the 17 Danish players are under 29, and seven of them are under 25. But while they may be young, coach Ulrik Wilbek is adamant that his team is up for the challenge.

“It’s a young team, to be sure, but it’s not an inexperienced team. Many of these young players have been here before, but it is a much younger team than we’ve had before,” Wilbek told DR News. “And it’s also a team lacking the defensive specialists − the players that only play at one end of the pitch.”

It’s impressive how Denmark have managed to switch generations with little attrition to their results. Sweden and Russia, for example, who dominated the handball scene in the 1990s, winning between them four Worlds and five Euros, have failed to make a final since Sweden won the Euros in 2002. They have simply failed to make the transition.

Denmark, on the other hand, have already enjoyed a decade as one of the dominant forces in the game and now look set for another one. Since finishing third in the 2002 Euros, they have won the Euros twice and finished third twice, and also finished fourth, third and second in the Worlds.

Denmark look a good bet to make a second consecutive final. With the likes of Hansen, Niklas Landin, Nikolaj Markussen and Rasmus Lauge patrolling the Danish line for the next six to ten years, the future looks very bright indeed.