The throw-off for the EHF EURO 2020 is just around the corner and all 24 participating teams are gearing up for what promises to be a spectacular fortnight of entertaining and nail-biting handball.
There was fine-tuning from all directions, irrespective of the injury problems and the festive period that just passed, and with only a week before the first games, we are ready for the ultimate edition of the EHF EURO 2020 power rankings.
There are, of course, some friendly games left in the final week before the throw-off, but there is not much to be changed and while the pack of favourites might be shuffled after the first round of games, there is not much to separate the top sides.
On we go, then…
Four years ago, Germany won the trophy, but they were eliminated in the main round in 2018.
Ambitions are, once again, high after they finished fourth in the Men’s IHF World Championship 2019.
There was a lot of noise about head coach Christian Prokop after their untimely exit from EHF EURO 2018, but he did not pay the price and is ready to lead the German side to silverware.
Germany should progress from their group, but stamina will be key for their players after injuries to their back line. Three of their right backs are out injured, with Franz Semper the latest casualty ahead of EHF EURO 2020.
Can they maintain their performance for a long two-week stint? The answer will be decisive in their quest for a medal.
Norway have hosted the EHF EURO once – in 2008 – but they failed to win a medal. In fact, they have never been on the podium in the competition, something they will want to correct on home court.
The Norwegian side will play in Trondheim in the group phase, but they will switch to Malmö, in Sweden, provided they progress to the main round.
But they are eager to add a first European medal to their tally, despite losing captain Bjarte Myrhol to injury.
Veszprém right back Kent Robin Tönnesen will also miss the tournament due to injury, but the silver medal-winning Norwegian side from the 2019 IHF Men's World Championship is virtually unchanged.
Having a playmaker like Sander Sagosen will surely help. Chemistry will be key and the Norwegians have plenty of it.
The title holders were not the biggest favourites two years ago, in Croatia, but they overcame early losses against Denmark and Slovenia to claim the gold medal.
Key contributors from that side, like Arpad Sterbik or David Balaguer, are missing this time, but the Spanish core is still there.
Veterans Raul Entrerrios and Julen Aguinagalde will lead the way with their experience, while the right side still has Ferran Sole and Alex Dujshebaev, both of whom were EHF EURO 2018 All-stars.
In October, Spain beat Norway, only to be defeated by France on penalties in the Golden League. Therefore, Spain’s form is still there and they have at least a fighting chance of defending their title.
Even though they will face Germany in the preliminary round, Spain should be able to work their way through to the main round and another semi-final place is within their grasp.
Provided they reach the final, Sweden will play eight games on home court across three cities – Gothenburg, Malmö and Stockholm.
In Croatia two years ago, they were the surprise package, reaching the final and leading the game against Spain at half-time, only to be swept away in the second half by a flawless Spanish side.
This time, this means more. When the competition was held in Sweden 18 years ago, they won the trophy – and with four EHF EURO trophies, one more than France, Sweden remain the record winners.
Kristján Andrésson will still lead the team at the EHF EURO 2020, although he took over German powerhouses Rhein-Neckar Löwen last summer and now shares his national team duties with club duties.
And with the team’s core intact for the past three or four years, Sweden can only hope to add to their medal tally.
The EHF EURO 2018 MVP, Jim Gottfridsson, will be back, as well as backs Albin Lagergren and Lukas Nilsson, while Andreas Palicka and Mikael Appelgren, the superb goalkeeping duo, will still cause nightmares for opponents.
The French side have the opportunity to tie Sweden for the most EHF EURO titles – and on the Swedes' own court, no less – but they can also earn safe passage to the Olympic Games if they win this tournament.
"We have learnt from our mistakes and we are at our top level now,” said coach Didier Dinart, after France lost their last two major semi-finals at the EHF EURO 2018 and in the Men's IHF World Championship 2019 .
The French side will miss Kentin Mahe and, most likely, Luka Karabatic, with both the attack and the defence needing improvements.
Yet France won the Golden League in October and have the experience and the depth to compete at the highest level.
With everything on the table, Didier Dinart will surely hope to learn from his mistakes and guide France to a gold medal for the first time in his career as a coach.
Coach Nikolaj Jacobsen left his role as the Rhein-Neckar Löwen coach to immerse himself fully in the day-to-day management of the Danish national side.
He did not have to make any substantial changes to the side that won the trophy last year at the World Championship, with key players like Mikkel Hansen, Rene Toft Hansen, Rasmus Lauge and the Landin brothers aiming to win another gold medal at the EHF EURO 2020.
Hansen, who has hit 1,000 goals for the national team, will once again be the key player for Denmark, while right wing Lasse Svan is nurturing an injury and will likely not be at 100 per cent at the start of the EHF EURO.
Playing in Sweden will also see thousands of Danish fans flock to support their team, so Jacobsen’s side will surely get a boost whenever they need it.