Spanish win brings memorable EHF EURO to a close

FEATURE: Spain defend their trophy; the organisation of the EHF EURO is praised; records are set; and a master plan for the future is agreed

The EHF EURO 2020 proved a success for the teams, fans and organisers. Photo © Uros Hocevar / kolektiff

When Raul Entrerrios, Spain’s team captain, raised the trophy amid a rain of glitter on the winners’ podium in Stockholm on Sunday night, the biggest EHF EURO ever was history – and what history this tournament made.

By Spain beating Croatia 22:20 in the final, attended by almost 20,000 fans in the Tele2 Arena in the Swedish capital, an astonishing and memorable tournament came to an end after 65 matches. For the first time ever, three nations – Sweden, Austria and Norway – were joint hosts of an EHF EURO, and matches were played in six cities: Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in Sweden, Trondheim in Norway as well as in in Vienna and Graz in Austria.

It was also the first ever EHF EURO with 24 participants instead of the previous number of 16.

“We only received absolutely positive feedback, both on the extension of the tournament, and on the event hosted by three countries,” said EHF President Michael Wiederer, who on Sunday night handed over the winners’ plate.

“European handball has definitely become more competitive in the new format, you really had to be on your toes right from the start, if you want to make it to the final weekend,” Wiederer added.

Teams such as Olympic and world champions Denmark and record world champions France missed the main round, while the Netherlands, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Latvia made successful debuts at the EHF EURO 2020.

Many records were broken during the tournament. On the court, Norway’s Sander Sagosen set a new high for the number of goals scored by one player at a single EHF EURO, after netting 65 times.

Another record was the overall number of spectators. The old record of 400,000 fans at the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland had already been broken after the main round with 420,000 spectators. By the end of the tournament, 500,000 fans had attended matches.

Of the three hosts, two ended the EHF EURO 2020 with their best-ever result at the European championships. Norway won bronze and Austria finished eighth.

Portugal, finishing sixth, also had their best-ever tournament, clinching their ticket to the Olympic Qualification Tournaments alongside fourth-ranked Slovenia.

While European champions Spain directly qualified for the Olympic Games, the two finalists and bronze medal winners Norway booked their tickets for the World Championship 2021 in Egypt. A further 10 spots for this event will be confirmed in European playoffs in April and June.

The competition delivered more data than ever before at a major championship, with live statistics from Kinexon and iBall provided to fans, media and teams. It is hoped this use of this data by sports scientists, teams and the EHF will help push handball forwards in the future.

Sold-out arenas and a great atmosphere

All three organisers praised the cooperation with the EHF, the atmosphere in their arenas and the overall impression of the event.

“We saw brilliant matches in the brand new Spektrum in Trondheim, all Norwegian match days were sold out with 9,000 fans, for the other group, we sold more than 75 per cent of all tickets. Besides, we had more than 800 VIPs in our hospitality programme and more than 4,000 visitors per day in our fan zone. Simply brilliant,” said Kare Geir Lio, President of the Norwegian Handball Federation. Norway will co-host the Women’s EHF EURO 2020 in December alongside Denmark.

“We were on prime time of our public TV channel ORF 1, we were on the front pages of the major newspapers every day. The interest in handball by the Austrian public was really huge for two weeks,” said Bernd Rabenseifner, Secretary General of the Austrian Handball Federation, noting that almost all matches in Vienna and Graz sold out.

Together with Switzerland and Hungary, the Austrian Federation will go on to co-host the Women’s EHF EURO 2024, the first edition with 24 teams.

Though the Swedish team failed to qualify for the final weekend in Stockholm, the Swedish organisers said they were extremely happy with the number of fans and the whole EHF EURO.

“We, which means all three organisers, are proud that the EHF trusted and supported our project from the beginning. All groups – teams, officials, fans, volunteers, staff and organisers – created a memorable event with an unforgettable atmosphere from the first to the last day,” said Krister Bergström, CEO of the Swedish Organising Committee.

Together with EHF President Michael Wiederer he handed over the EHF flag to the representatives of the Hungarian and Slovak Handball Federations, which will host the Men’s EHF EURO 2022 in Bratislava, Kosice, Budapest, Szeged and Debrecen.

On the fringes of the EHF EURO 2020, many side events took place, such as the first module of the new EHF Masters Coach Course, the Conference of Presidents, the Extraordinary Congress and many more.

A major topic for the Conference of Presidents and Extraordinary Congress was the presentation and confirmation of the European Handball Master Plan 2020 to 2027, the new strategy for increasing the European-wide interest of handball.

written by Björn Pazen / jh