The European Men’s Handball Championship is halfway through, so this is a great time to understand what this widely played game is all about. Not quite soccer, kind of basketball and nothing to do with football, this game is played all over Europe as well as parts of Asia (though the largest continent has its own league called the Asian Handball Federation). It is most popular in Europe, and European Olympic teams have won all but one of the men’s championships since the early 80s. There is also some following in South America and North Africa, but the sport is essentially unheard of in the United States.
Handball teams are composed of six players and a goalkeeper. The game is played indoors on a small court. Originally from Denmark, the final set of rules was codified by the Germans in 1917. Men’s handball was first played at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics as an outdoor game but was then taken indoors at the 1972 games. It has been played in the Games ever since, with a women’s team having been included in 1976. There has been some vague archeological evidence towards handball having been played in ancient Rome and France, but this is still under speculation.
The point of the game is quite obvious: score a goal by throwing the ball past the goalkeeper into the net. Handling the ball is a little different than in order sports. Just like in basketball and soccer, once a player has the ball they can pass it, keep possession, or shoot it. If the player keeps the ball, they need to either dribble the ball to travel across the court or to take three steps for three seconds at a time. The goal area is an essential part of the game in that the goalkeeper is the only player allowed within 12 feet of the goal. Goalkeepers are allowed outside of the goal boundary provided that they do not have the ball in their hands. Still, the ball cannot be passed back to the goalkeeper while they are positioned in the goal area. The scoring itself can get pretty intense. Though the basic idea is just to get the ball passed the goalie, an attacking player might catch a pass while launching inside the goal area, then shoot before touching the floor. Doubling is a similar move in which a diving player passes to another diving teammate.
Unlike many popular sports in the United States, handball does allow for body contact between offensive and defensive players. For example, contact from the front of the body is not considered a rule violation. In fact, referees don’t always stop the game if there was a foul in order to allow the game to flow more freely. However, a ref may stop an attack if the team is too passive, and if the way of attacking doesn’t change, the team only has six passes with which to complete the attack.
This current championship is quite unique in many ways. For the first time, it is being cohosted in Sweden, Austria, and Norway. So far, Croatia is the favorite team when it comes to the win, having already been qualified for the semi-final in Stockholm where they will face Spain and the Czech Republic. The Balkan states have been on fire this season, with Serbia and Montenegro having taken some crucial wins. Croatia are in Group I in the Main Round with Austria, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, and Belarus and now have 6 points. Both Croatia and Spain are already qualified for the semi-finals.