When the classes of 2011 and 2018 clash again in 2021Article
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INSIGHT: What are the key factors behind the four World Championship semi-finalists, who had composed the same stage three years ago at the EHF EURO in Croatia?

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Sometimes in the world of handball, history repeats itself, particularly when the usual suspects make it all the way in major tournaments.

2011: Looking upon Friday’s semi-finals at the 2021 World Championship two previous events had the same composition: Ten years ago, exactly the same semi-finals occurred in Sweden. Denmark faced Spain and made it to the final, winning 28:24, while the hosts Sweden were defeated by France 29:26.

Looking upon 2021’s semi-finals will show that still some players of the “class of 2011” are on court: The rejuvenated Swedish side is the only team without any players from  2011 still in their squad, while their opponents France still count on left wing Michael Guigou and right wing Luc Abalo.

Even seven players of the second 2011 semi-final will duel again on Friday: Niklas Landin, Lasse Svan and Mikkel Hansen on Danish side while Jorge Maqueda, Raul Entrerrios, Joan Canellas and Viran Morros remain for Spain.

In 2011, France finally took the trophy after extra-time against Denmark, defending their title and becoming world, European and Olympic champions at the same time with their golden generation.

2018: Three years ago, the same four teams had qualified again for the semi-finals, this time at the 2018 EHF EURO in Croatia. Spain defeated France 27:23 and Sweden sensationally left the Danes behind 35:34 after extra-time in the semi-finals. But what is different this year?

The experienced joker: Spain had a joker in that semi-final, just flown in from Skopje. When the Spaniards beat Germany in the decisive final main round match, goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas got injured. Coach Jordi Ribera reacted and called for Arpad Sterbik.

The veteran arrived at Croatia just a day before the game, had one training session and became European champion by playing around 40 minutes on two days. But his saves, mainly penalties, in the semi-final were crucial, when he entered the goal in the final against Sweden as a back-up for Rodrigo Corrales, he rose like Phoenix again. In Egypt, Perez de Vargas and Corrales again form the best goalkeeper duo alongside the Danes, even without Sterbik’s help.

The clean record: In both competitions, 2011 and 2018, France were the only side to arrive with an unbeaten record at the semi-finals, winning all respective matches of the preliminary round and the main round. In 2021 at Egypt, both France and Denmark won all of their matches, while Spain (one draw) and Sweden (two draws) are unbeaten as well. In 2018, Spain and Sweden suffered two defeats and Denmark one in the run to the final weekend.

The experience: Spain were the oldest team ever to become EHF EURO champions in 2018, and ten players of the 2018 line-up have matured three more years to fight for gold again in 2021. Sweden only have four of those 2018 finalists still in their squad, nine regulars had to be replaced before the championship. On the other hand, Denmark have eight players who lost both matches of the final weekend in Zagreb still in their squad, France count on eleven.

The trophy collection: Sweden have won four EHF EURO titles, France three, Denmark and Spain two each - the four 2021 semi-finalists combine for eleven of 14 European trophies, with the exceptions being in 1996, Russia, as well as 2004 and 2016, both won by Germany.

In terms of World Championships, this quartet has claimed 13 of 26 trophies on the global stage, topped by France (6), ahead of Sweden (4), Spain (2) and Denmark (1). All Olympic champions since 2008, France twice and Denmark, are also represented. Sweden hold a historic record, they definitely do not like: No other team lost more Olympic finals than them - four out of four.

The coaches: In 2018, Nicolaj Jakobsen (Denmark) and Jordi Ribera (Spain) were in charge. The two remaining coaches just started their mission after EHF EURO 2020: Glenn Solberg took over Sweden from Kristjan Andresson, Guillaume Gille promoted from Didier Dinart’s assistant to the new head coach. Gille got off to an inauspicious start right before the World Championship, losing his debut match against Serbia, before drawing with them a few days later in EHF EURO qualifiers. Solberg is still unbeaten in official matches, having won his openers in the EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers against Romania and Kosovo.

The magic hands in 2018: Silver medallists Sweden were inspired by EHF EURO 2018 MVP Jim Gottfridsson, the mastermind in the Swedish attack. For Spain, it was the defensive middle block of Gedeon Guardiola and Viran Morros, France were boosted by the saves of goalkeeper Vincent Gerard in his first major tournament as number one after Thierry Omeyer had retired, and Denmark again profited from the goals of Mikkel Hansen, All-Star team left back and second best scorer of the competition. The good thing for all of them is that all of these players will be on court on Friday.

Now it is time to vote - what will be the x-factors this weekend and who will take gold in Egypt?

TEXT: Björn Pazen