EHF EURO’s most famous generals
This is the fifth article in the 'Battle for the Throne' series, looking back at handball's rich history on the eve of the Men's EHF EURO 2022.
Among the records at stake when EHF EURO 2022 begins on 13 January is that for the holder of the most titles. Currently, this is held by the five Swedish ‘Bengan Boys’ who snatched four European crowns between 1994 and 2002. Only one player can match this record in Hungary and Slovakia: Nikola Karabatic, who will compete with France for a fourth gold medal.
The Swedish stalwart remains on top of Europe, 20 years after winning his fourth and last EHF EURO, and that shows how extraordinary his performances were. Sweden won the EHF EURO four times between 1994 and 2002, only letting the 1996 edition slip to Russia. Wislander is one of the five Swedish players who won the competition a record four times.
Not only did Wislander step on top of the European podium four times, he also remains the only line player to have be named MVP of the EHF EURO. That was in 2002, and the now 57-year-old Wislander was also elected as All-star Team line player in the same year.
Nikola Karabatic might go down in history in a few weeks as the only non-Swedish player to have won four EHF EURO tournaments. The right-hander, who can play in both the left back and the centre back positions, already lifted the trophy three times, in 2006, 2010 and 2014. To these three titles, he added two bronze medals, the last one at EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia.
Karabatic was crucial to France’s success at all these tournaments. He is one of only two players to have been elected MVP of the EHF EURO twice, in 2008 and 2014. Despite being defeated in the semi-final by Croatia, 2008 was a fruitful edition for Karabatic, as he scored 44 to finish joint top scorer of the competition alongside Croatia’s Ivano Balic and Denmark’s Lars Christiansen.
As a general, what better way to go out than with a bang? Raul Entrerrios ended his European career on a high, lifting the trophy twice with Spain at his last two EHF EURO participations. Those 2018 and 2020 gold medals came after the massive disappointment of 2016, when Entrerrios and Spain lost the final to Germany while the centre back was elected MVP of the competition.
But, along with experienced soldiers such as Daniel Sarmiento and Jorge Maqueda, Entrerrios worked even harder to come back stronger. And while his role may have changed over the years, with less playing time, he remained as key as ever for his national team.
Perhaps THE most iconic handball player of all time, not least because of his immediately recognisable haircut. Balic was part of an incredible Croatian generation. Petar Metlicic, Igor Vori, Blazenko Lackovic and Mirza Dzomba were his teammates on the battlefield. The only reason they never won the EHF EURO was, without a doubt, that France or Denmark were just as hungry as they were.
As a consolation, Balic can surely look to his trophy shelf and look at his MVP awards from 2004 and 2006. To this day, the centre back remains the only player to have won two MVP awards in a row.
Few players can stand next to Lars Christiansen and say they finished five out of six straight EHF EUROs with a medal around their necks. The former SG Flensburg-Handewitt left wing was a real boost for any team he played for. From 2002 to 2012, Christiansen finished with three bronze medals (2002, 2004, 2006) and two titles, in 2008 and 2012.
Christiansen was the centre of attention in 2008 when Denmark won their first European title. He was elected as All-star Team left wing as well as one of the three best scorers of the competition. Denmark might have counted many talented players in his position, but none of them have yet to impact history in the way Christiansen did.
What can we say about Thierry Omeyer that has not been said yet? The French player is probably one of the goalkeepers that will go down among the best-ever at the EHF EURO. Part of the All-star Team in 2006, the former THW Kiel and Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper also won the EHF EURO three times, in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
The 2014 episode highlights how hungry for success Omeyer was: while he missed the beginning of the competition due to an elbow injury, he was decisive in the main round, pulling off a 50 per cent save rate performance against Croatia before giving hell to hosts Denmark in the final.
The list of players which have put their mark on EHF EURO history would not be complete without Filip Jicha. True, the Czech left back never won the EHF EURO title, or even reached the semi-finals. But the 2010 edition, held in Austria, was all his.
All eyes were on Jicha during the six games the Czechs played in 2010, and he was named best left back and MVP of the competition as well as top scorer with 53 goals. As a result, the Czechs finished eighth that year, their third-best performance ever.