Pressure on co-hosts as European rivals lurk

The 26th World Handball Championship gets underway on Thursday, as 24 nations battle it out for global glory.

It will be the first time the tournament has been held across two countries and co-hosts Denmark and Germany are fancied to go deep in the competition. The Danes are the 3.00 favourites to win their maiden world crown in the outright betting, with reigning champions France 3.50 and the Germans 6.00.

Can co-hosts rise to the occasion?

For Denmark, it has been a case of so near yet so far in the World Championships. In 22 attempts, the Danes have been runners-up three times but winning gold at the 2016 Olympics means the current generation have glory behind them.

A dramatic semi-final defeat to Sweden at the European Championships was as a bit of a shock and another surge to the medal round should be a given, according to Danish Handball Federation Sports Director Morten Henriksen.

They are 1.30 to top Group C, with Norway the only nation likely to cause trouble in what coach Nikolaj Jacobsen has described as a “great group” and two-time World Handball Player of the Year Mikkel Hansen (5.50 Top Goalscorer) leads a talented roster.

Co-hosts Germany were crowned champions on home turf in 2007 and coach Christian Prokop says his team want to create a similar atmosphere to the one that carried that vintage to glory.

Since winning the European title in 2016, a relatively unchanged squad has struggled for consistency but Prokop maintains he is happy to put his faith in familiar faces as he feels their experience will be vital.

Qualification should not be an issue, with France the three-time champions’ only real rivals early on and they will look to generate some early momentum by topping Group A at 2.55.

In left wing Uwe Gensheimer, Germany have a genuine contender for Top Goalscorer at 6.00, while 27-year-old goalkeeper Andreas Wolff is a fearsome last line of defence and is approaching his peak years.

Gensheimer has said his team’s issues are behind them and that they are “full of optimism” following past mistakes. While not favourites, two of Germany’s three world titles have come on home soil and the spirit of 2007 could carry them to more global glory.

Fantastic French always dangerous

With so much sport to choose from, France’s success in handball took time to arrive but there is a reason they are now known as ‘Les Experts’. The French won Olympic gold in both Beijing and London and have won four of the last five world championships.

Losing to Spain in the semi-finals of last year’s European Championship was only their fifth loss in 22 medal matches and the fact they are 1.45 to top Group A ahead of Germany, demonstrates their class.

Co-coaches Didier Dinart and Guillaume Gille may have tricky calls to make selection-wise, due to the depth of their country’s talent pool, and young guns Dika Mem (4.75 MVP Winner) and Ludovic Fabregas are undoubtedly ones to look out.

Super Spain eye third win

Reigning European champions Spain will feel their time is now and the unity captain Raul Entrerrios discussed after winning European gold in Croatia will be vital to their hopes.

Beating Germany and France on their way to continental glory bodes well and a third world crown is priced at 6.50.

After four silver medals and two bronze, last year was the first time the Spanish had claimed European gold and the current generation of Hispanos will not lack for confidence.

Egypt out to make their mark

It will also be interesting to see how Egypt fare, as they prepare to host the 2021 tournament. Losing out to Tunisia in last year’s African Championship will have encouraged the squad and this is coach David Davis’ first major tournament in charge following the resignation of Marwan Ragab.

The Pharaohs’ have long been tipped as a team for the future and having not made it through since the eighth-final format was implemented in 2013, they could be about to make history.

Old rivals Tunisia are the 1.52 favourites to be Top African Team but at 2.50, Egypt are serious contenders in the market as they aim to build for 2021.

History made for Korea

There will also be some history made as Handball becomes the latest sport to see a unified Korean team participate.

While the North has never been involved in this competition, the South made the quarters in 1997 and had already qualified courtesy of winning bronze at the 2018 Asian Championship before the decision to field a united team.

Young Shin Cho’s side have the honour of playing the opening game against Germany in Berlin, but their match odds of 25.25 illustrates the size of their task.