20 for 2020: Destined to dominate next January

FEATURE: With the season drawing to an end and two crucial EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers left to play, here is a collection of 20 players who have shined in qualification and will do so again at the final tournament

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK APRIL 13: Action from the 2020 Men's European Championship Qualifiers match between Denmark and Montenegro in Royal Arena on April 13, 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Jan Christensen / FrontzoneSport via Getty Images)

Following the two previous 20 for 2020 lists this season, which focused on talented youth players and rising national team stars, the latest contribution to the series shines the spotlight on the upper echelon.

This list features 20 national team heroes who have contributed heavily to their side’s EHF EURO 2020 Qualification efforts and are certain to produce moments of magic in Sweden, Austria and Norway next January.

1. Mikkel Hansen – Denmark

This man is in the form of his life. After an astonishingly good World Championship in January, Hansen continued his blistering form with 14 goals in the double-header against Montenegro. A perfect season was ruined with PSG’s loss to Kielce in the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-finals, but that disappointment will only stoke the flames of his ambition next season. With Hansen leading the line in attack, Denmark will be a scary prospect to face next January.

2. Andy Schmid - Switzerland

How wonderful would it be to see this man at a major tournament? Schmid has scored more than a quarter of Switzerland’s goals in qualification, leading the top scorer rank in Phase 2 with 33 goals, and has featured in the Best 7 after each pair of rounds. After seeing Schmid work his magic for Rhein-Neckar Löwen over the years, it is time to see him do it at another EHF EURO event, before it is too late.

3. Dainis Kristopans – Latvia

Fresh from winning his first VELUX EHF Champions League trophy, where he was instrumental in Vardar’s triumph, the big right back now has his sights set on reaching EHF EURO 2020. With 17 goals in four games, he is not their top scorer so far, but that is no surprise considering the attention he is given by opponents. Nevertheless, his game has developed so much in recent times, with his vision and passing ability becoming equally threatening.

4. Ludovic Fabregas – France

This year’s VELUX EHF Champions League best young player has gone from strength to strength since joining Barcelona last summer. As well as banging in 53 goals in Europe’s top flight, the 22-year-old has already firmly established himself as France’s first choice line player, scoring 28 goals as they won bronze in January. Get used to seeing Fabregas and his young French teammates, they are here for the long run.

5. Uwe Gensheimer – Germany

You can always trust Uwe Gensheimer to produce for Germany. He has been consistently brilliant for club and country throughout this season and he is leading by example for Germany as they wade through a fairly straightforward qualification group. He missed out on gold in 2016 through injury and there is no doubt that he wants to lead his men back to the top of the podium, this time in the thick of the action.

6. Aron Palmarsson – Iceland

While Aron Palmarsson has developed into a true playmaker with Barcelona, whipping beautiful passes around the court to a plethora of capable scorers, his role with Iceland requires him to often create his own chances. In a team full of young talents, 28-year-old Palmarsson will be required to guide his teammates to qualification first of all, then through the various tests a major championship throws up, something he was unable to do at the World Championship as injury prevented him from playing in the main round.

7. Kiril Lazarov – North Macedonia

North Macedonia is gripped by handball glory again, thanks to Vardar’s VELUX EHF FINAL4 success, but the national team still have a job to do to reach EHF EURO 2020. Thankfully for them, they have Kiril Lazarov. He recently signed a contract extension with HBC Nantes, showing us he is going nowhere for now. He helped drag his side to three crucial points in the double-header against Iceland and he is certain to do the same in January.

8. Domagoj Duvnjak – Croatia

At just 31, Domagoj Duvnjak has been through the wringer with injuries in recent years, but he is well and truly back fit and it is some sight to see. Duvnjak played a pivitol role as Croatia picked up three points in the double-header with Serbia and if he can stay fit and maintain the form he has shown for Kiel, Croatia will be even more dangerous at EHF EURO 2020.

9. Niklas Landin – Denmark

One of the, if not the, world’s best goalkeepers at the moment. Niklas Landin makes it all look so easy when he is on form and his performances at this year’s World Championship were a sight to behold. Named the best goalkeeper of the World Championship, EHF Cup Finals and Bundesliga this season, what will next season bring?

10. Dejan Milosavljev - Serbia

In the space of a season he has gone from a barely known Vardar newcomer to VELUX EHF Champions League winner. The 23-year-old keeper played a huge part in a glorious weekend in Cologne and is very capable of transferring that form to his national team, which will be needed if Serbia are to qualify.

11. Nedim Remili – France

Remili is one of very few PSG players who could leave with their heads held high after the surprise quarter-final defeat to Kielce, he was in another world with 19 goals over the two legs. The 23-year-old has delivered for France in qualification so far and could very well deliver an all-star performance in January, as long as he fends off fellow right backs Dika Mem, Valentin Porte and Melvyn Richardson in one of the most stacked national team positions in world handball.

12. Roland Mikler – Hungary

Mikler helped keep Russia to just 19 goals in their own back yard in Round 3, securing a victory which has put Hungary in pole position in Group 7. The Veszprém goalkeeper has hit new heights this season and his performances will have a big part to play in his nation’s success next January.

13. Igor Karacic – Croatia

It is very difficult to choose between Karacic and Luka Cindric, but with the focus on EHF EURO Qualification performances, Igor gets the nod. It feels like this season has been a tale of redemption for Karacic as he has refound top form for club, leading Vardar to European glory, and country, proving himself valuable for Croatia at the World Championship. A true fighter at both ends of the court, he will play a key role in a deadly Croatian back court.

14. Timur Dibirov – Russia

You could not have a list like this without this man. At 35, Dibirov shows no signs of slowing down and the moments of magic he produced in 2019 for Russia and Champions League winners Vardar need to be seen to be believed. His ability to steal a ball, speed in transition attack and inexplicable no-angle goals make every Russia match a must-watch event.

15. Blaz Janc – Slovenia

The focus in Slovenia is usually on their plethora of talented and creative playmakers, but right now the spotlight is on their versatile left-hander Blaz Janc. The 22-year-old helped drag them though the toughest qualification test to date, scoring nine in the 27:26 win in the Netherlands, and his club form has been brilliant. Used mostly as a right wing at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, Janc showed just how capable and dangerous he is in the back court as well against the world’s best.

16. Bence Banhidi – Hungary

The 24-year-old line player has just enjoyed his most successful season in Europe, scoring 75 goals for Szeged and he has carried that form into the national team. His brilliant handling and power on the line makes him unplayable at times and he is only getting stronger.

17. Artsem Karalek - Belarus

He featured in the previous 20 for 2020 as a rising star, but it is clear he has gone beyond that. Karalek played a big part in Belarus’ Round 3 win away to Czech Republic, which has kept them in the hunt for qualification. The line player proved just how primed for the big time he is with two strong performances at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, during which he scored 11 goals for Kielce.

18. Gilberto Duarte – Portugal

He enjoyed a very productive season with Barcelona and has used his time with one of the world’s best clubs to lead Portugal to within touching distance of their first EHF EURO in 14 years. Duarte fired in seven goals in the away win against Lithuania and five in the historic victory against France, but it is his ability at both ends of the court which make him so very important.

19. Benjamin Buric – Bosnia Herzegovina

If Bosnia Herzegovina are to navigate their way through the final two qualification matches and reach their very first EHF EURO, you can be certain Benjamin Buric was have played his part. The 28-year-old goalkeeper has hit new heights since joining Flensburg last summer and it will be fascinating to see him in action at EHF EURO 2020.

20. Vladan Lipovina – Montenegro

After their Round 1 draw at home to Faroe Islands, Montenegro looked set to be left behind at EHF EURO 2020. But their shock win over world champions Denmark thrust them back into contention and Vladan Lipovina came to life in that double-header. The 26-year-old leftie has been on an upward trajectory since joining Rhein-Neckar Löwen last summer and it will be entertaining to see what he can produce should Montenegro qualify.

written by Chris O'Reilly