The Netherlands aims for gold at the European Women’s Handball Championship

Edition 29 November 2018, by Seringe Touquet

“We are working hard to get this team to the highest possible level,” said Dutch Handball Federation (NHV) chairman Tjark de Lange when the Netherlands defeated handball giants Russia five years ago to play in the World Championship in Serbia, 2013. During the past several decades, the women’s national handball team has participated in ten World Championships since the first tournament in 1971, five European Championships since the first tournament in 1998, and in the Olympic games. The Dutch team’s Helle Thomsen (coach) and Danick Snelder (captain) are hopeful about taking the national handball team all the way to gold in this year’s European Championships, taking place from November 29th to December 16th.

This month’s competition taking place in Paris won’t be a walk in the park for the ambitious Dutch team, despite its fierce performances in recent years. Competing in Group C are Hungary and Spain, both of whom confidently and consistently land in the world top 10 in medal count. If the Dutch team manages to finish in the top three in its group, it will play three more games between the 7th and 12th of December. The team will then likely face Norway, as well as the world champions France. Other teams participating in the tournament and among the top ten medal earners are Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Ukraine. The competition will be held in four arenas in and around the French capital, namely Parc des Expositions in Nantes, Palais des Sports Jean Weille in Nancy, L’Axone in Montbéliard and Brest Arena, with the finals played in Paris. Teams will be hosted by Paris AccorHotels. Current coach Helle Thomsen knows winning this year’s title will require tremendously hard work. Previous winners and de facto champion Norway rank number 1 in medal count. Should the Netherlands aim for the finals, it will presumably face the Norwegian powerhouse to claim the championship title. Meanwhile, Thomsen has revealed the top 10 players of the team: Lois Abbingh, Debbit Bont, Kelly Dulfer, Nycke Groot, Laura van der Heijden, Angela Malestein, Estavana Polman, Martine Smeets, Danick Snelder and Tess Wester. In total, sixteen players will board a plane from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Paris a day before the competition begins, to face off against their first challenger Hungary on December 1st.

They say where there is smoke, there is fire. And there is an upsurge in smoke from the Dutch national handball team, which has been picking up steam for the past couple of championships. With the competitive nature of handball, it is hard not to acknowledge the outstanding performance of the Dutch national team. Attracting the attention of Scandinavian countries and players no doubt means something, and the Dutch team is poised to go all the way. Crucial players are Nycke Groot (cornerback) and Tess Wester (goalkeeper). Groot plays for Hungarian handball team Györi, one of the best teams in the sport, and has amassed a great deal of experience in the Netherlands. Tess Wester, a major international player with German team SG BBM Bietigheim, has collected gold and multiple silverware in international competitions, and has earned her spot as one of the best keepers performing in this month’s upcoming championship tournament. Considered the best player at the last world championship, Wester’s role is especially important, as the Norwegian rivals have been known to derive their strength from fantastic goalkeeping. After all, Norway partly credits its success to having three of the five best goalkeepers in the world to itself, underlining the significance of the goalkeeper. Former goalkeeper of the Swedish national team and current TV commentator Claes Hallgren dubs the Dutch way of playing “the future of handball.” The team successfully reached second place at the finals of the previous World Cup, while finishing fourth at the Rio Olympics. In both competitions, the Netherlands faced Norway as the last opponent before being sent home. This puts emphasis on the toughness of the competition and rivalry between the two teams. Norway has reached the finals in nine out of the last eleven European Championship tournaments, which occur once every two years.

Arne Hole, a handball pundit for the Norwegian Aftenposten newspaper for over three decades, shares his thoughts on the Dutch national team and its chances in the upcoming tournament. “They play very fast, that’s one of their strong points.” Hole also admits the Norwegian giants play “quickly”, but underlines the immense skill and experience in big races gained by the Dutch team, which will make them a formidable and fierce contender in 2018’s tournament. Due to the changing dynamics of the game, Hole concludes that handball is played at an ever faster pace, so that speed has become a key strength for any competing team. While handball has yet to make its mark among popular Dutch sports, the success of the women’s team might just change that. Today, football (soccer) unsurprisingly still stands as the go-to sport for Dutch and most European people, followed by field hockey, volleyball, ice-skating, gymnastics, golf and tennis.

The Dutch men’s national handball team hasn’t shown as much vigour as their female counterparts. Having qualified for a single World Championship, without any Olympic or European Championship qualification, the men’s team has proven inferior in terms of its track record to the women’s team, which gained silver at the 2015 World Women’s Handball Championship and competed in many other international tournaments. The women’s team generated great popularity back in 2013 after a series of successes, including beating Russia in 2013’s World Championship in Serbia and being voted “heroes of the year” by readers of Dutch magazine Helden. It is thus conceivable that the team will bring handball to the next level in terms of popularity. Coach Helle Thomsen has seen it all, having represented and won medals for both Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany throughout her professional career as a handballer. She performed in both the European and World Championships, and, while currently coaching the Dutch national team, simultaneously coaches Molde HK, a Norwegian club. Her background irrefutably brings quality to the team and is therefore instrumental to its success.

Founded on July 11th, 1946 (72 years ago) in Denmark, and currently headquartered in Switzerland, the International Handball Federation (IHF) has been the governing body of handball since 1946. It will welcome the sixteen teams in the upcoming European Championships