20 players preparing to set the handball world alight

20 for 2020: The summer’s younger age category events have seen a plethora of talents emerge on the international scene, many of whom are already making a name for themselves at senior level

The upcoming Men’s EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers is an exciting time to see how Europe’s top teams are shaping up for a big two years of international competition, including the World Championship 2019, EHF EURO 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics.

This summer’s Men’s 18 EHF EURO in Croatia and 20 EHF EURO in Slovenia gave us a glimpse into the future, with the next batch of talent strutting their stuff on the international stage.

Based on these two tournaments, here are 20 players expected to make the step up for their nations by the time EHF EURO 2020 takes place in Sweden, Austria and Norway and as we discover below, many are already making waves at senior level.

1. Dylan Nahi (18) - France

Left wing sensation Dylan Nahi already made his debut for the French senior team a year ago, scoring five goals in a Golden League victory over Poland. The 18-year-old is an understudy to Uwe Genheimer at PSG and showed his class in France’s run to the Men’s 20 EHF EURO Final in Slovenia, where he was named on the All-star team.

2. Grega Ocvirk (19) – Slovenia

With 11 goals in the final, Ocvirk was instrumental in Slovenia’s home M20 success as the competition’s top scorer. The left back moved from Celje to Vardar just before the season began and has been involved in the Macedonian side’s VELUX EHF Champions League squad.

3. Diogo Silva (20) – Portugal

Silva was a shining light for Portugal on their surprise march to the M20 semi-finals, finishing as the second highest goalscorer and named MVP. It would not be a big surprise to see the right back feature at some point during the senior side’s EHF EURO 2020 Qualification campaign.

4. Ludvig Hallbäck (17) – Sweden

At the age of just 17, Hallbäck has already been awarded the EHF Player of the Month twice, more recently for his role in helping Sweden capture the M18 gold. The versatile back court player top scored in Croatia with 56 goals and is currently second top scorer in the Swedish handball league with Ystads IF.

5. Kyllian Villeminot (20) – France

20-year-old Villeminot is the only player on the list to taste VELUX EHF Champions League success as he was in the Montpellier squad which sensationally won the title in June. The centre back starred for France at the M20 this summer and has been given greater responsibility with his club side at the beginning of this campaign.

6. Haukur Thrastarson (17) – Iceland

Iceland surprised everyone with their M18 silver medal this summer and Haukur Thrastarson stood out as the team’s exceptional talent, winning the tournament’s MVP award. The 17-year-old playmaker has shown his comfort at senior level as well, scoring 16 goals for club side Selfoss in the EHF Cup.

7. Fabian Norsten (18) – Sweden

The first goalkeeper on the list recorded a strong 37% save rate on his way to M18 gold and the All-star goalkeeper award. Since, Norsten has gone on to make his Swedish top flight debut with Hammarby.

8. Jovica Nikolic (16) – Serbia

He may be just 16, but Jovica Nikolic has no problem firing in the goals for club and country. The Serbian right back made the M18 All-star team in the summer and has reproduced that form with SEHA League side Vojvodina, top scoring with 13 goals in their recent EHF Cup Round 2 tie.

9. Juri Knorr (18) – Germany

Left back Juri Knorr was the clear attacking threat for Germany in the sixth place M18 finish, scoring 33 goals, earning him a spot in the All-star team. Barcelona signed him over the summer and although he has some stiff competition in the Barca back court, it will not be too long before we see him at the highest level.

10. Sadou Ntanzi (18) – France

France may be disappointed to finish outside of the M18 medals this summer, but at least they unearthed more rising stars. Sadou Ntanzi starred as a centre back, getting an All-star team nod, and the future looks bright for this Paris Saint-Germain youngster, who can learn from fellow playmakers Nikola Karabatic and Sander Sagosen on a daily basis.

11. Robin Paulsen Haug (20) – Norway

This Norwegian shotstopper was kept very busy at the M20 and although his side finished 9th his performances were enough to earn an All-star team award. Now in Sweden with HK Malmo, the 20-year-old will taste EHF Cup action later this year.

12. Valter Chrintz (18) – Sweden

Skilful right wing Chrintz caused terror for every opposition defence at the M18 and scored 44 goals en route to gold with Sweden. He has since featured regularly for IFK Kristianstad in the VELUX EHF Champions League, one of the perfect clubs to gain early exposure to Europe’s top flight.

13. Ivan Martinovic (20) – Croatia

Croatia’s outstanding player at the M20 Ivan Martinovic already has five years of senior handball under his belt with Austrian side Fivers. The right back moved to Gummersbach in the summer and has already scored 49 goals in the Bundesliga, earning him a call up to the Croatian men’s team for the upcoming EHF EURO 2020 qualifiers.

14. Thor Christensen (17) – Denmark

A striking feature of the Danish M18 team was how evenly spread the output in attack and defence was, with the vast majority of the squad involved in each match. Line player Christensen stood out for his performances on the line, which saw him take home an All-star award alongside a bronze medal.

15. Dagur Gautason (18) – Iceland

Another player who had a key role in Iceland’s surprise M18 silver medal is left wing Dagur Gautason. The tournament’s All-star left wing is a prolific scorer in the Icelandic men’s league and his club side KA were wise to hand him a two-year contract before the summer, when the rest of Europe must have sat up and took notice at the next big left wing talent from Iceland.

16. Joshua Thiele (20) – Germany

Germany had one of the meanest defences at the M20, so it is only right to include their All-star defender, Joshua Thiele. The line player has since featured in the German Bundesliga for Hannover-Burgdorf and could see EHF Cup action later this season.

17. Luis Frade (20) – Portugal

Frade was a serious threat on the line for Portugal on their journey to the M20 semi-final, which saw him score 26 goals and nominated for the All-star team. With Sporting CP, Frade is enjoying his first experience of VELUX EH heF Champions League handball and the Portuguese club are making a serious push for the play-offs.

18. Domen Novak (20) – Slovenia

While much of Slovenia’s attacking threat came from Ocvirk on the left side, right wing Novak rarely missed an opportunity when they did come his way. The 20-year-old leftie was an ever-present figure on court for the gold medal-winning side and scored 86 per cent of his shots.

19. Dominik Mathe (19) – Hungary

With 56 goals in the M20, Mathe was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Hungary. With the search on for the next great Hungarian right back, this prolific goalscorer could be given a chance at senior level in the near future.

20. Eduardo Calle (18) – Spain

Left back Calle scored 9 for Spain in their heart-breaking loss to eventual champions Sweden in a tournament defining main round match. The Barca youngster was Spain’s star at the M18 event and it is only a matter of time before we see him given a chance to play for the Blaugrana’s senior side.

written by Chris O'Reilly