The Shock, the Rocket and the Octopus: who’s who at the EHF EURO 2020

WHAT EMOJIS SAY: A run-down of the first games of EHF EURO 2020 – in emojis

Portugal delivered the shock of the tournament so far when they beat France in their opening match. Photo © Axel Heimken / kolektiff

The first batch of games at the EHF EURO 2020 is over, therefore the moment for a review is upon us.

Using the power of the emoji, here is a look at the most important moments of the tournament up until now: key players, surprising results and some of the analytics provided after the first 12 games of the competition.

The EHF EURO brings together the best teams in Europe, but the nature of the tournament always brings up unexpected results and proper shocks. This also happened in the first round of the EHF EURO 2020, as two of the big favourites dropped their games.

While Denmark lost against Iceland, 30:31, after a grueling, nail-biting last couple of minutes, the real bombshell was France’s loss against Portugal, 25:28. Portugal, who had won only six of their 25 games in prior tournaments, had beaten France in the qualification round, but few would have expected “Les Experts” to lose at the EHF EURO.

Meanwhile, Denmark were tipped by many to win the whole thing and were topping the power rankings before the start of the tournament, but were taken by surprise by a gutsy Iceland. It was a battle between Mikkel Hansen (nine goals) and Aron Palmarsson (10), but Iceland were more clinical and literally had ice in their veins.

Fast breaks have been instrumental in modern handball. They help the defence regain their breath and can provide easy goals, bringing a team closer to the win. With teams always studying and improving every aspect of the game, speed has become a crucial factor and a fast player will always yearn for a higher percentage of fast breaks converted.

For the EHF EURO 2020, KINEXON provided a state-of-the-art system, taking the handball experience to a new level. Player tracking is as easy as clicking on the official website of the competition.

Data regarding the top speed of the players is provided live, with speed and pass statistics now available. But who were the fastest players on the court in the first round?

Unsurprisingly, four players had a top speed of 31 km/h and all four of them are wings. Bosnian pair Ibrahim Haseljic and Alen Ovcina, Belarusian Andrei Yurynok and Swiss left wing Nik Tominec were all tied, ahead of another eight players with a top speed of 30 km/h. By comparison, Usain Bolt’s top speed when he set the 100 m world record was 44.72 km/h.

Many believed that before the start of the tournament, one of Sweden’s main weapons was their goalkeepers. Andreas Palicka and Mikael Appelgren complement each other perfectly and it was Palicka’s turn for the first game of the round, against Switzerland. After nine minutes, resembling an octopus with eight limbs Palicka had already deflected six shots and finished the game with 18 superb saves for a 47 per cent efficiency.

No other goalkeeper came even close, although North Macedonian goalkeeper Nikola Mitrevski managing to save 15 shots for a 38 per cent efficiency. Moreover, Palicka’s antics were also displayed at the other end of the court. He took advantage of Switzerland’s risky tactic of pulling out the goalkeeper to score two goals, only one fewer than all other goalkeepers combined in the first round.

“Playing at home will always help you lift your game and be a little bit better,” said former Swedish playmaker Staffan Olsson, who helped Sweden lift the trophy in 2002 on home soil. We cannot know what passes through a player’s head, but it seems those words were taken to heart by Sander Sagosen.

Born in Trondheim, Sagosen learnt to play handball in his local club, Charlottenlund. Now, eight years later, he is back in Trondheim and led Norway to a superb 32:26 win against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sagosen put on a vintage performance, scoring 12 goals from 14 shots, for an 86 per cent shot efficiency.

The 24-year old playmaker also assisted four goals, being responsible for 50 per cent of the Norwegian side’s goals. Norway will need more of the same from Sagosen, who immediately cemented a claim for the MVP or the top goal scorer trophies after the first game.

Moving over to Austria, Nikola Bilyk was not born in Vienna, but in Tunis, yet he started his career in Fivers Margareten, a team from the Austrian capital. Now, at only 23 years old, he became indispensable for the Austrian national team. With pride at stake, Bilyk led his side to a 32:29 win, scoring 12 goals and registering five assists, boasting a 92 per cent shot efficiency.

With the introduction of the iBall, fans can find out easily who has the fastest shot in the EHF EURO 2020, as all data is made public during the games. There were 670 goals scored in the first 12 games of the competition and the fastest shot was by Polish back Szymon Sicko, who recorded a 139 km/h shot in Poland’s 23:26 loss against Slovenia. The 22-year old back from Gornik Zabrze scored only twice in the game from nine shots, but his bullet was impossible to stop.

Next in line were two other backs: Croatian Luka Stepancic and Switzerland’s Roman Sidorowicz.

MOL-Pick Szeged’s Stepancic scored a goal against Belarus with a 137 km/h shot, while Sidorowicz scored his only goal of the game against Sweden with a shot clocked at 136 km/h.

As for the usual suspects, Nikola Karabatic had his best goal clocked at 122 km/h, Mikkel Hansen saw the ball travel with 123 km/h, and Swedish back Kim Ekdahl du Rietz came closer to the record, putting the ball in the net against Switzerland with a 135 km/h shot.

An 18-year-old right wing scored one of the most beautiful goals in the VELUX EHF Champions League last season, against the title holders, Montpellier.

Fast-forward one year later and Valter Chrintz made his debut in an official game for Sweden at the EHF EURO with a vintage goal that will surely remain etched in his memory.

“I just tried to score the goal, saw the ball and it all came naturally. Really, it hit 2,000 views on Twitter in only 30 minutes? Man, that’s a little bit crazy,” said Chrintz immediately after the Swedish win against Switzerland, 34:21.

It is time for another episode of the (Uni)informed Handball Hour - the official podcast of the EHF EURO 2020. In episode four, Norwegian handball legend, Kristian Kjelling, and TV3/Viasat commentator, Daniel Høglund, joined the podcast to talk all things Norway, the emergence of this new generation and being hosts of a EURO.

Kjelling looked back at his own experience of a home EHF EURO back in 2008 and how Norwegian handball has developed both on and off the court since then. With interesting insight, some old stories and a few laughs thrown in for good measure, this episode is a real treat, so make sure to download it now before Norway's group D clash with France at 18:15 in Trondheim.

written by Adrian Costeiu / jh