While it’s true that handball has never reached the heights of sports such as football in some parts of the world, it has managed to attract a strong and loyal fanbase in others. In parts of Eastern Europe, as well as in Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, it is popular among both those who enjoy playing the sport and those who love nothing more than to root for their favourite teams at live matches.
This Mr Green guide to handball aims to improve your knowledge of the sport, specifically the major handball leagues, tournaments, and competitions, such as the Handball Bundesliga in Germany, the EHF Champions League, the EHF Cup, Handball at the Olympics, the World Handball Championships, and NHV Eredivisie.
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If you’re new to handball, we’ve got you covered with a brief introduction to the rules of the game.
While handball has yet to become a phenomenon on the world stage, it has a longer history than you might think. In fact, the first game was played as far back as 19th-century Denmark, and according to recent numbers, there are approximately 27 million registered players around the world.
In the rest of this guide, we’re going to focus more closely on the world’s more well-known handball competitions to increase your knowledge of the sport and ultimately, help with your betting on handball.
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The Handball Bundesliga in Germany is the world’s most popular domestic handball league. An average of 4.800 fans made their way to league games in the 2018/19 season, with 13,200 turning up to watch SG Flensburg-Handewitt battle it out with Rhein Neckar Löwen in the highest-attended match of the season.
The Handball Bundesliga is among the world’s four professional handball leagues, along with Championnat de France de handball in France, Liga ASOBAL in Spain, and Handball League in Denmark.
Germany is usually ranked No. 1 in Europe for handball. Germany assumed the top ranking in 2010 and stayed there before Spain jumped ahead of them in 2019. The rankings are decided by the EHF coefficients.
Each year sees 18 teams battle it out to win that season’s title. In each match, the winning team is awarded two points, and one point is awarded to both teams in a draw. The two teams at the bottom of the league at the end of the season are relegated to the second tier, with the two best teams in the second tier heading in the opposite direction.
The season consists of 34 days of handball action in a round-robin format, with each team playing every other team in the league twice (one game at home and one game away). The Handball Bundesliga doesn’t have a final or play-offs.
The best two teams at the end of the season go on to play in the EHF Championship League in the following year. The teams that finish in third, fourth, and fifth spots compete in the EHF Cup. There can be a change to European qualification should a European title be won by a German team, as that team is automatically entered into the competition.
While a German national handball league had already existed, the Handball Bundesliga was formed prior to the 1966/67 season and was initially divided between north and south teams.
In 1977, the regional leagues merged into one. A second-tier league was established in 1981, with the Regionalliga relegated to the third-tier league.
For a long time, VfL Gummersbach had the most league titles, with 12. However, THW Kiel won their 13th title in 2007 to knock Gummersbach off their perch. Ultimately, Gummersbach still has the highest number of EHF European Cup Titles, with five, while THW Kiel is two behind, with three, and are tied with Magdeburg. As of 2019, Flensburg-Handewitt is the current holder after defeating rivals Kiel in the final.
However, Kiel was undoubtedly the dominant Bundesliga team in the noughties, with much of their success attributed to the play of Nikola Karabatic. They won seven titles in that decade and went on to achieve more success in the early part of the following decade, thanks to players such as Daniel Narcisse and Rhein-Neckar Löwen. More recently, two other teams have come to the fore, firstly Rhein-Neckar Löwen, with two consecutive titles in 2016 and 2017. SG Flensburg-Handewitt went on to achieve the same feat in 2018 and 2019.
Germany’s Handball Bundesliga is different from other sporting leagues in that the teams that have achieved the most success aren’t those from big cities you might expect. That’s unique from a sport such as a football, where the bigger teams are from major cities like Munich, Paris, London, Manchester, Barcelona, and Madrid. When you think of the most successful teams in the Handball Bundesliga, however, only 246.000 people reside in Kiel and the population of Gummersbach is just 51.000, So you’ll want to avoid being swayed by the teams coming from those cities associated with football when putting your betting strategies together.
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The EHF Championship League is the premier handball club competition in Europe.
The competition bears similarities to the UEFA Championship League in football, with each European league’s best teams competing at predetermined midweek dates throughout the domestic season.
The best team from each of the top 27 handball leagues in Europe is awarded automatic qualification for the following EHF Champion League season’s group stage, while the best two leagues (as of 2019, those leagues are Spain and Germany) are awarded an additional place for a second team.
The competition sometimes features a round of qualifications based on deserving entries proposed by handball associations from their respective countries.
Four groups make up the group stage. Eight teams play in groups A and B, with six teams in groups C and D. The winning teams from A and B go on to play in the quarter-finals, with the five teams finishing in second to sixth place from each group proceeding to play in the Round of 16. The best two teams from both Groups C and D compete in a play-off to determine the two teams that will play with the combined 10 teams from Groups A and B. So the Round of 16 actually features just 12 teams, rather than 16.
The winners of Groups A and B then compete with the six winners of the Round of 16 to play in the quarter-finals. Things become clearer from thereon out.
Each game sees every team pay other twice. There are only two games that are played over one leg: the third-place game and the final.
The EHF has enjoyed a long history. The first competition of what was then called the European Cup took place in 1956 before it assumed a new format and rebranded itself in 1993.
Barcelona’s 1991 win helped to introduce a new chapter in handball when the competition rebranded to the EHF Champions League for the 1993/94 season. The following eight tournaments were each won by Spanish teams. While Barcelona enjoyed a great deal of success at the time, teams such as Elgorriaga Bidasoa, TEKA Santander, and Portland San Antonio also had their own success.
After further wins at the tournament over the years, Barcelona is the competition’s most successful team in its history, having won more titles than any other team at the time of writing.
The second-most successful team in the competition is from Germany. VfL Gummersbach has won the title five times, although they haven’t won it since 1983. Another German team, THW Kiel, won the competition in 2007, 2010 and 2012 as Germany enjoyed a hugely successful period, winning four titles in five years (Flensburg-Handewitt and HSV Hamburg won the other two).
In more recent years, another team has come to the fore in the form of RK Varda from North Macedonia. They won two titles, in 2017 and 2019, with a fourth-place finish in 2018, and should always be in consideration when thinking about your handball betting strategy.
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The EHF Cup is Europe’s second-tier tournament for club handball.
While the EHF Championships League is for the best clubs in Europe, the EHF Cup is for those clubs who are just behind. In that sense, it parallels the Championship League and Europa League in football. Germany has a long history of dominating the EHF Cup: as of 2019, the last 16 competitions were won by teams from the Bundesliga. German teams have won the tournament 24 times in total, leaving only 14 occasions when a non-German team were named EHF Cup winners.
The EHF Cup goes through three stages prior to the final: Qualification, the Group Stage, and the Knockout Stage.
A total of 64 teams take part in the qualifying stage. The teams are selected based on where they finished in their domestic league in the previous season. Initially, 32 teams play in the first qualifying round. A second-round commences, with a further 16 teams introduced to play the winners of the first qualifying round, and then the final round features the 16 winning teams from round two playing against 16 higher-ranking teams (usually from the best-performing nations, such as Spain, Denmark, France, and Germany). Each qualifying game is a two-leg, knockout affair.
Each of the winners from the final qualifying round then reunites at the group stage, which consists of four groups of four teams. The teams play each other twice, with the group winners and second-placed teams advancing to the quarter-finals.
For the semi-final stage, one of the team’s stadiums is selected to play host to each game. Should that team finish first in their group, they are awarded automatic qualification for the semi-finals. In this case, the second-placed team in the group stage with the lowest amount of points is eliminated, which means that the quarter-final stage consists of just three matches to determine the remaining three semi-finalists.
The semi-finals and final are held over a single weekend, with the two semi-final matches held on Saturday, and the third-place play-off and final matches held on Sunday.
Hosting the semi-finals and final clearly offers a significant advantage as, as of 2019, three of the last five host teams have won the competition.
The tournament was established in 1981, and prior to 1993, was called the IHF Cup. Before 2012, it was a straight knockout tournament. After it merged with the EHF Cup Winners’ Cup, however, the competition introduced a group stage.
Recently, both THW Kiel and Frisch Auf Göppingenhave won the tournament on multiple occasions. However, despite German domination, no one team has won the competition more than four times.
One team that has enjoyed huge success in the competition over the years is VfL Gummersbach. The team won the title in 1982 after they comfortably beat Yugoslavia’s Zeljeznicar Sarajevo in the final.
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The biannual event is the biggest global tournament in handball: both for men and women.
The tournament is hosted by a different country at each event. France has been more successful than any other country, winning six gold medals.
There are multiple ways to qualify for the tournament. The host country automatically qualifies, as do the current World Champions and the European Championship winners. The best teams from the Pan American, Asian, and African Championships also qualify. The remainder of teams from Europe takes part in a designated qualification period. Wildcard places are also available so that the 24-team lineup can be completed.
Recent events have started with four groups, each consisting of six teams playing every other team in their group. The best three teams from each go on to compete in the “Main Round”, where two more six-team groups play each other.
The best-performing teams from all four groups go on to play in the semi-finals.
Once a team has been eliminated, they still have the opportunity to continue playing so that the full tournament ranking can be determined. Once the group stage is over, the bottom four teams play each other to determine places 21-24, the teams that finish fifth complete to decide places 17-20, and those teams that finish in fourth place play on to be placed 13-16. The format continues in this way until the losing semi-finals play each other for third place and a bronze medal.
The very first Handball World Championships were held in 1938 in Germany, with the home country winning the competition just prior to WW11. The war ensured that the Championships would take an extensive six-year break. This time Sweden hosted the event, and again the host country was named the winner.
The next tournament was held in 1948 before it briefly introduced three-year intervals. It reverted to four-year intervals in 1970. Since 1993, however, the Championships have been held every other year.
European teams have been a dominant force in the tournament since its inception. It wasn’t until 2015, in fact, that a country from another continent even made the top three when host country Qatar finished in third place.
France is a country that has performed extremely well in the competition of late, after winning gold in 2009, 2011, 2015, and 2017. As of 2019, they’ve won the competition more than any other country, with six titles in total. In 2019, we saw a host country win for the first time when co-host Denmark went all the way. There was another first about this tournament, i.e. it was the first co-hosted Handball World Championships, with Germany being the other host country. As the experiment was a successful one, Sweden and Poland have been named co-hosts in 2023. Egypt will host the 2021 event.
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Handball has been seen in various forms at the Olympics. In Berlin 1936, field handball was among the events before it was later dropped. In 1952, however, it made a comeback as a demonstration sport. Later we saw the introduction of men’s indoor handball in 1972, with women’s handball making its first appearance in 1976. Both events have remained fixtures at every Olympics year since.
Handball at Tokyo 2020 will feature both men’s and women’s 12-team handball events. Along with host nation Japan, the qualifying teams will include six teams decided by an IHF Qualification Tournament, the European Champions, the African Championship winners, the Asian Qualification tournament winners, the winners of the Pan American Games, and the winners of the World Championship.
The actual tournament will feature a group stage, with the best teams going on to the knockout rounds, beginning with the quarter-finals.
There isn’t anyone team that has dominated handball at the Olympics, either the men’s or women’s events. Nine countries have won gold in the men’s event, with four (Croatia, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and France) each winning twice.
It’s a similar scenario in the women’s event, with Denmark only slightly dominating, after winning three times between 1996 and 2004.
In the 2016 Games, Denmark won a close match with France in the men’s event when Mikkel Hansen from PSH Handball shone for the winning side. Russia defeated France to win gold in the women’s event.
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The NHV Eredivisie is the Netherland’s top-tier professional handball league. The winners are regarded as the champions of Dutch handball.
In the opening phase of the season, the best six teams from the previous year take part in the BENE-League competition. This phase also featured the best six teams from the Belgian league. The other 12 teams compete in a national competition. The second phase sees the four best Dutch sides from the BENE-League play in a two-round system for the national title. These four teams play in a full competition in the first round. The two best teams then play a best-of-three format in the second round. The four teams are then ranked. The National Competition’s two highest-ranked teams compete with the two lowest-ranked Dutch teams from the BENE-League for two spots in the following season’s BENE-League.
The national competition’s two bottom-placed teams compete with the Eerste Divisie’s four-period winners in a two-round format for a place in the following season’s Eredivisie. The first round sees the six teams split into two groups of three. The three teams from each group then play a full competition. Finally, the two group winners play a best-of-two format to decide which team is to be awarded a place in the following season’s Eredivisie. The Eerste Divisie champions take up the final place in the Eredivisie.
Founded in 1954, with 18 teams, the Eredivisie now ranks among the top handball leagues in the world.
Olympia Hengelo dominated the league in its early days, winning three titles in the first five years. NILOC Amsterdam and Operatie combined to win the first six titles in the 1960s, with NILOC winning in 1960-61 and Operatie winning four titles from 1962-1965. In 1960, Sittardia won their first of a record 20 titles, with an incredible 11 titles in 13 years. Other teams that have scored huge success over the years include HV Aalsmeer, with eight titles, KRAS/Volendam, with seven titles, and E&O Emmen and Vlug en Lenig, with five titles each.