While handball isn’t a particularly popular sport in the UK, it is absolutely adored in other parts of the world. Indeed, in Scandinavia, Germany and much of eastern Europe, the game is extremely popular, with thousands of people not only playing, but also cheering on their teams at live handball matches.
In order to give you a better insight into the world of handball, this Mr Green guide will take a careful look at the world’s biggest handball leagues, competitions and tournaments, including Germany’s Handball Bundesliga, the EHF Champions League and EHF Cup, the World Handball Championships, Handball at the Olympics and even England’s Premier Handball League.
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If you don’t know much about handball, don’t worry, we’ve provided you with a basic summary of handball rules below:
While the game has yet to experience global appeal, handball was actually first played way back in the late 19thcentury in Denmark and today’s handball statistics show that there are around 27 million registered players worldwide.
In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at the most popular handball competitions in the world to give you more insight into the game to help improve your betting on handball.
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The most popular domestic handball league in the world is undoubtedly Germany’s Handball Bundesliga. League games averaged 4,800spectators in the 2018/19 season, along with a highest attendance of 13,200 as Rhein Neckar Löwen faced SG Flensburg-Handewitt.
The Handball Bundesliga is one of just four professional team handball leagues in the world, alongside the Danish Handball League, Spain’s Liga ASOBAL and Championnat de France de handball.
Germany also typically sits a top of the European country rankings for handball, as determined by the EHF coefficients. They held the top spot from 2010 until 2019, when Spain leapfrogged them.
While the men’s league is at the top of the sport, women’s Handball-Bundesliga doesn’t enjoy quite the same sway. Indeed, the women’s Bundesliga is only ranked as Europe’s seventh biggest women’s league, with Hungary’s K&H Liga holding the top spot above the likes of the Romanian, Russian, Danish, French and Norwegian leagues.
18 teams compete in the Handball Bundesliga each season, with the bottom two sides being relegated to the 2. Bundesliga and replaced by the second-tier’s top two sides. Teams are awarded two points for a win and one point for draw.
The league season is played over 34 game days in a round-robin tournament format, with each team playing each other twice (once home and once away). There are no play-offs or final in the Handball Bundesliga.
The top two teams at the end of the season qualify to play in the following season’s EHF Champions League, while the next three placed teams take part in the EHF Cup. European qualification can change should a German team win one of the European titles, as that team will be guaranteed a position in the competition as the winner and so they don’t qualify using the league position.
Although a national German handball league had existed, the Handball Bundesliga was created ahead of the 1966/67 season and was originally split in regional north and south sections.
In 1977, the two regional leagues were merged into a single national league of 18 teams, while a second-tier 2. Bundesliga was added in 1981, with the Regionalliga being moved down to the third-tier league.
In 2007, THW Kiel surpassed VfL Gummersbach’s 12 league titles to displace them as the all-time most successful team domestically in Germany. However, VfL Gummersbach still hold a record five EHF European Cup titles, compared to THW Kiel’s three, although the last of Gummersbach’s European successes did come in 1983. Magdeburg have also won three titles, while Flensburg-Handewitt were the last team to enjoy the title of being Europe’s best after beating local rivals Kiel, as Anders Eggert starred in the 2013/14 final.
Nevertheless, Kiel dominated the Bundesliga in the noughties, thanks in large to their star player Nikola Karabatic. During this period, they won seven of a possible 10 titles. They have continued to enjoy considerable success in the early 2010’s, too, with Domagoj Duvnjak and Daniel Narcisse amongst their ranks. However, the tide has turned in recent years with Rhein-Neckar Löwen claiming back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, before SG Flensburg-Handewitt followed suit in 2018 and 2019.
Germany’s Handball-Bundesliga is also quite unique in that many of the league’s most successful teams don’t come from big cities. Unlike in football, where big city teams tend to dominate the major competitions (e.g. Madrid, Barcelona, London, Manchester, Paris and Munich), most of the biggest German handball teams come from relatively small cities. Kiel has a population of 246,000, Gummersbach is home to just 51,000, Grosswallstadt has a tiny population of 4,116, while Flensburg comprises of just 85,000. Therefore, it’s important not to be sucked up by the “big teams” when composing your for handball.
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Europe’s premier handball club competition is the EHF Champions League.
The competition closely mirrors football’s UEFA Champions League, with the top teams from each European league meeting in midweek fixtures throughout the regular season.
The VELUX Group has sponsored the competition since 2010/11, with the competition officially known as the VELUX EHF Champions League, while the semi-final stage is known as the “VELUX EHF FINAL4”.
The winner of each the top 27 European handball leagues (based on the EHF coefficient) automatically qualifies for the group stage of the next season’s EHF Champions League, while the top two ranking leagues (currently Germany and Spain) get an extra place each.
In some years, the competition also holds a qualification round, based on other deserving entries put forward by each country’s respective handball associations.
The group stage is split into four groups. Groups A and B feature eight teams, while Groups C and D feature six. The top-ranking teams from A and B proceed directly to the quarter finals, while the teams finishing second to sixth enter the last 16 round. The top two teams from both Groups C and D then enter a play-off to see which two teams will join the other 10 teams to complete the “Round of 16” (which only consists of 12 teams).
The Group A and B winners then join then six Round of 16 winners in the quarter-final stage where things get a bit simpler.
All games – including group games, play-offs and knockouts, all see teams play each other home and away. The only games not to be played over two legs are the final and third place game, which take place at a pre-determined location.
The EHF Champions League has a long and illustrious history. The competition was created in 1956 and was known as the European Cup until its rebranding and new format in 1993.
The ‘European Cup’ was first won by Dukla Prague in 1957 and the competition went on to be won by German, Swedish, Czech, Romanian, Soviet and Yugoslavian almost exclusively until the 1990s.
However, Barcelona Handball’s win in 1991 brought upon the dawn of a new era in the sport and after the competition’s rebrand to the EHF Champions League for the 1993/94, Spanish teams won the next eight editions of the tournament. And while Barcelona did enjoy considerable success during this time, the likes of Portland San Antonio, TEKA Santander and Elgorriaga Bidasoa also tasted success.
After tasting further success – albeit more infrequently –after the turn of the millennium, Barcelona – who are affiliated with the football team – are the most successful team in the competition’s history with nine titles as of 2019.
Germany’sVfL Gummersbach are the next most successful team in the competition with five titles – although the last of these came in 1983. THW Kiel, meanwhile, won titles in 2007, 2010 and 2012, as Germany enjoyed a renaissance in the competition, winning four out of five titles (HSV Hamburg and Flensburg-Handewitt won the others).
Inrecent years, North Macedonia’s RK Vardar have proven to be a force worth reckoning with. They won the title in both 2017 and 2019, while finishing fourth in 2018 and are certainly worth considering when concocting your .
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The EHF Cup is the second-tier competition for continental club handball in Europe.
While the top European clubs play in the EHF Champions League, the next ranking clubs play in the EHF Cup – much in the same way as the Europa League functions compared to the Champions League in football. The EHF Cup has been dominated by German sides in recent decades, with Bundesliga teams winning 15 of the last 16 editions as of 2019. Indeed, German sides have won the competitions 24 times, with all other teams combining to win it just 14 times collectively.
There are three stages to the EHF Cup: Qualification, a Group Stage followed by the Knockout Phase.
In total, 64teams enter the competition throughout the qualifying stages, based on their domestic league position in the season previous. To start with, 32 teams start in the first qualifying round, the winners of which are then joined by another 16 teams in the second qualifying round. The third and final qualifying round features the 16 winning teams from round two along with 16 higher-ranking teams (typically from the top handball nations like Germany, France, Denmark and Spain). All of the qualifying games are straight knockout matches taking place over two legs (one home and one away).
The 16 winners from the third qualifying round then meet at the group stage, with four groups of four set up. Again, the teams play each other twice in a round-robin format, with the top team from each group progressing to the quarter finals, as well as the best three second place teams being guaranteed a spot.
For the Final 4 stage of the competition, one team’s arena is picked to hosted all of the games. If the chosen team wins their group, they automatically qualify for the Final 4 (AKA semi-finals). The lowest point scoring second-placed team are also eliminated from the competition, meaning only three quarter finals take place to decide the rest of the Final 4 contenders.
The Final 4 takes place over one weekend with one-legged semi-finals taking place on one day, with the final and third-place play-off occurring the next day.
There is undoubtedly a big advantage to hosting the Final 4, with three of the last five hosts going on to win the competition (as of 2019).
The competition, known as the IHF Cup until 1993, was founded in 1981. The EHF Cup was a straight knockout competition until 2012. However, following a merger with the EHF Cup Winners’ Cup, the tournament format changed to include a group stage.
Despite German teams dominating the competition, nosingle team has won the tournament more than four times in total (as of 2019). In recent years, both Frisch Auf Göppingen and THW Kiel have won the title on several occasions.
VfL Gummersbach – who have historically enjoyed tremendous success in the European Cup, were the competition’s first winners, beating Yugoslavia’s Zeljeznicar Sarajevo comfortably in the 1982 final.
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Taking place biannually, the Handball World Championships is the premier international competition in both men’s and women’s handball.
A different country (or countries) hoststhe tournament on each edition, with France having proved to be the most successful team in the competition with six gold medals in the men’s event.
Qualification for the Handball World Championships takes place in several ways. The host(s) are awarded a berth, as are the winners of the previous World Championship, as well as the winners of the EuropeanChampionship. The top teams from the African, Asian and Pan American Championships also gain qualification, while a designated European Qualification period takes place for the rest of the European teams. A couple of wildcard sports are also up for grabs and are typically awarded in order to complete the 24-team roster.
Recent editions of the tournament have seen four groups of six teams start the competition, with each team playing each other once in each group, before the top three teams from each proceed to the “Main Round”, where two more groups of six play each other.
The top two teams from each group then proceed to the semi-final stage.
Once eliminated, though, teams still play in further games in order to determine the entire tournament ranking. After the group stage, the four bottom teams go head to head in a 21stto 24thplace semi-finals, while the fifth placed teams compete in a 17thto 20thplaced tournament, and the fourth-placed teams play it out for the 13thto 16thposition. This elimination format continues until the losing semi finalists battle it out for the bronze medal.
The first Handball World Championships took place in Germany in 1938, with the host nation alsowinning the tournament shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Due to the war, the Championships didn’t take place again until 16 years later, when Sweden hosted – and also won – the tournament.
The tournament took place again four years later, before switching to three-year intervals until 1970, before again reverting to every four years. Since 1993, the Handball World Championships have taken place every two years.
The World Championships have been dominated by European teams throughout their history and it wasn’t until 2015 that a non-European country won a medal, as hosts Qatar took the bronze medal for finishing in third place that year.
France has enjoyed tremendous success at the tournament in recent years, winning the 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2017 tournaments, pushing them into a comfortable lead as the competition’s most successful team with six titles as of 2019. Denmark won their first title in 2019, after they shared hosting duties with Germany. That was the first time there has been dual hosts, but the competition went well, meaning that Poland and Sweden will also co-host in 2023, after Egypt in 2021.
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Handball has appeared in various guises at the Olympics. Field handball was an event for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin but was subsequently dropped. It appeared again in the field variety as a demonstration sport in 1952. Men’s indoor handball was then introduced at the 1972 games, and was followed by women’s handball in 1976, with both events remaining at every summer Olympics since.
Handball at the 2020 games comprises a 12-team men’s and 12-team women’s event. The qualifying teams include the host nation (Japan for 2020), as well as the World Championship winners, the Pan American Games winners, the winners of an Asian Qualification tournament, the winners of the African Championship, European Champions and six teams through an IHF Qualification Tournament.
The tournament itself will then consist of a group stage, before a knockout format takes over at the quarter-final stage.
Surprisingly, no single team has dominated either men’s or women’s handball events in the Olympics. There have been nine different Gold medal winning teams in the men’s side, with four nations (France, Soviet Union, Croatia and Yugoslavia) each winning gold twice.
The women’s side is not much different, with only Denmark’s three consecutive gold medals between 1996 and 2004 setting them above the rest.
Denmark narrowly beat France to gold in the men’s handballin the 2016 games with PSG Handball’s Mikkel Hansen starring for the Danes, while Russia also beat the French in the women’s final.
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While far from being one of the bigger handball leagues in the world, the Premier Handball League is the top league for handball clubs in England.
The Premier Handball League is not a particularly illustrious competition on the international stage and is made up of just eight teams, each of which play each other twice per season. Teams earn three points for a win, two points for a draw and one point for a loss. If teams are level on points, they are then separated by goal difference.
Below the Premier Handball League are north and south Championship divisions. At the end of each season, the bottom team is relegated from the Premier Handball League and is replaced by the winner of the Championship (with the top north team playing the top south team in a play-off).
The national English handball league has been running since 1975, when Birkenhead were the early dominant force in the competition. Early records in the competition are somewhat scarce, but the league was rebranded from the ‘Super 8’ to the Premier Handball League in 2017.
London GD (formerly known as Great Dane (London))have dominated the Premier Handball League for a long time, winning eight out of 11 league titles between 2008 and 2018, with only Salford and Warrington Wolves claiming the other titles.
Unlike other leagues in Europe, the Premier Handball League is not a professional league and so struggles to compete against professional sides in the likes of Germany, Hungary, Scandinavia, France and Spain. Indeed, no English team has yet qualified for the EHF Champions League group stages.