National Champions of Europe – Men Part 1: North-West
As the club season comes to an end and the EHF’s international titles are celebrated, the numerous domestic league and Cup competition winners across the continent are decided.
Part 1 of the six-part series on 2017/18 national champions focuses on north-west Europe, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland and England.
A 19-year wait ends for Skjern
Skjern Handbold had a fine season. Not only did they become the first Danish team to reach the quarter-final of the VELUX EHF Champions League in six years, but the club from the far west of the country also won the Danish championship for the second time in history. Their first triumph was in their maiden season in the top flight, the 1998/99.
Skjern won the league, but the loss of right wing Rene Rasmussen, who tore his right Achilles tendon just before the Champions League Quarter-final against HBC Nantes, was a severe blow to their hopes. Still, they made it all the way to the Danish championship final, where 2016 champions Bjerringbro-Silkeborg were waiting.
The first leg in Skjern Bank Arena was dominated by the visitors, who were leading by up to six goals, but through a magnificent comeback, Skjern managed to end the match in a 29:29 draw. As the finals in Denmark are played best of three, the winners of the return match in Jysk Arena, Silkeborg would become the champions, while another draw would mean a third match in Skjern.
This time, it was Skjern’s turn to dominate, as they led 20:14 early in the second half. Yet, Silkeborg fought back. At 27:26 for Skjern in the last minute, the home team had the chance to equalise and book a third match – but their last attempt was saved by Emil Nielsen in Skjern’s goal.
Skjern’s other goalkeeper, Serbian Tibor Ivanisevic, who saved no less than eight penalties in the second leg of the Champions League Play-offs against Motor Zaporozhye, went on to stop another three attempts from the penalty line in the decisive championship final.
“I could not leave Skjern in a better way. I am going to Wetzlar with the best possible memories of this fantastic club,” said Ivanisevic, dressed in the Serbian flag, after the triumph.
Kristianstad for the fourth time, but only just
For the fourth year in a row, IFK Kristianstad became Swedish champions, but the decision in the final against HK Malmö was very close. In fact, extra time was needed before Kristianstad could celebrate yet another championship after a 23:22 win.
In Sweden, the championship is decided in just one final match. This year, Scandinavium in Gothenburg was the venue for the final, for which two teams from Sweden’s south qualified: Kristianstad and Malmö.
Malmö got the better start and an early lead, but by half-time, Kristianstad were leading by three. Malmö came back however, recording a 20:20 draw after 60 minutes.
In extra time, Kristianstad seemed to be safe, leading 23:21 with one minute left, but Malmö reduced the gap quickly and had the chance to equalise again. With eight seconds left, they missed their last opportunity, and Kristianstad were champions again.
Another double triumph for Elverum
Once again, Elverum could celebrate winning the league as well as the play-offs. However, they needed three legs of the play-off final before they defeated ØIF Arendal.
After winning the league once again, Elverum made it to the play-off final, where Arendal were the opponents for the second year in succession. Following a win for each side, Elverum left no doubt in the third and final match, which was also decisive as to which team will represent Norway in the VELUX EHF Champions League next season.
Following a 16:12 lead at half-time, Elverum outplayed and outran Arendal in the last 30 minutes and won as clearly as 35:24. As Arendal coach Marinko Kurtovic put it: “Elverum were just better at everything in the second half.”
It was the fourth year in a row Elverum won the play-off in Norway.
Perfect season in Vestmannaeyjar
IBV Vestmannaeyjar had a dream season in Iceland. They secured the treble by winning the Icelandic league, the Icelandic Cup and the national title after a true fight against FH Hafnarfjordur in the final.
It was the second time in history that IBV won the title, after the first in 2014. On top of that, IBV made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Men’s Challenge Cup 2017/18.
The win in the league was especially nerve-racking, with a victory against Fram in the last round securing the title. Meanwhile, Selfoss waited for the results of that game with one hand on the Cup, but eventually had to let go.
The season was truly a perfect goodbye for coach Arnar Petursson, who will be replaced by Erlingur Richardsson. Richardsson, the former coach for Füchse Berlin and current national coach of the Netherlands, is expected to continue the IBV legacy.
Exciting race as H71 emerge on top
H71 won the Faroe Island’s league after an exciting competition against Neistin. Only one point came between the teams, as H71 celebrated the title with 34 points to Neistin’s 33.
The last rounds were thrilling. Neistin won the duel against H71 in late March with two games left of the league – both of which they lost. Those defeats were costly, and H71’s draw against KÍF ended up being the point they needed to win the league, just like last year. In their battle for the national title, H71 won the second match versus Neistin 21:19 and secured the trophy.
But H71 missed out on the Cup after a 24:17 loss against Kyndil in the final. Kyndil, who finished fourth in the league, won their 11th Cup title to sit four ahead of Víf in the record of most won.
Aalsmeer back on the throne after nine years
FIQAS/Aalsmeer have returned to the summit of the Dutch league. Nine years after their previous Eredivisie title, they finally became champions again by dethroning OCI/Lions, who were the best team over the past three seasons. It was Aalsmeer’s 10th domestic title, but first since 2009.
Aalsmeer needed just two matches to decide the best-of-three series for the championship. They edged the Lions in Sittard by a single goal (29:28) in the first match, and finished the job by beating the defending champions again, this time 25:23, in the second game on the home court.
The title was a special moment for veteran playmaker Wai Wong, who had announced his retirement some months earlier. He will stay with the new champions, though, as he will serve as assistant to head coach Bert Bouwer next season.
Bocholt make it three in a row
Until three years ago, Achilles Bocholt had yet to win a national title. But since the 2015/16 season, no other team have been crowed champions of the Belgian Eerste Klasse. Bocholt won their third straight championship following a thrilling play-off series against Hubo Initia Hasselt.
After Bocholt lost the first match in Hasselt 30:27, they forced a decider by taking the second match on home court 32:30. And Bocholt also came out on top in the all-decisive third match (32:28), thanks to six goals each from Roel Valkenborgh, Serge Spooren and Damian Kedziora.
There was, however, some consolidation for Hasselt, as they won the Belgian Cup, beating HC Visé BM 32:23 in the final.
There were more celebrations for Bocholt, as they also added another title in the BeNe League – the combined competition with top teams from neighbouring Netherlands. Title holders Bocholt defeated the new Dutch champions Aalsmeer 29:25 in the semi-final, before beating Lions 34:31 in the final.
Close finish earns Kaerjeng second title
Handball Kaerjeng are back on top of the Sales Lentz League in Luxembourg. Four years after winning their maiden national championship in 2014, the club formerly known as HC Bascharage added a second title.
But how close was it in the end? In the final standings of the winner’s group, Kaerjeng edged multiple national champions HB Dudelange by half a point. Kaerjang made their season even sweeter by also lifting the domestic Cup.
The double came after the arrival of Dejan Gajic, the Serbian coach of Kaerjeng’s women’s team. Gajic assumed responsibility for the men’s team after taking over from Greek coach Dimitris Dimitroulias in January, when they were only ranked fifth.
Dublin International return to the podium
Dublin International HC reclaimed the Irish league title against the side who took it from them last season.
Last year’s champions, Dublin City Handball, came into the play-offs as title favourites, having won the national cup and lost just a single match all season, and they survived a tough test against Astra to reach the final.
After missing the 2017 final, Dublin International bounced back this season and improved their game in the semi-final to defeat exciting league newcomers Dublin Wings. Dublin International then proved they had peaked at the perfect time by beating DCH 28:26 in a tense trophy match.
The sides met once more, in early June in the inaugural British and Irish Handball League semi-final, which Dublin International won 36:32, before losing to Warrington Wolves in the final.
London GD celebrate the league and Cup double
London GD are back on top of English handball after both the men’s and women’s teams claimed league and Cup doubles.
The English league went down to the wire, with top contenders and local London rivals Olympia welcoming London GD in the final match.
Olympia won 21:20, which put the two sides level on points, but London GD had the better overall record and therefore claimed their 12th title.
In May, London GD added the Cup with a win over NEM Hawks, but that was where their run of good form ended. They lost the semi-finals of the British play-offs to Livingston, and the British and Irish League to eventual winners Warrington Wolves.
Glasgow take third league title in four years
Just a single point separated the top three sides in the Scottish men’s league this season, with Glasgow pipping defending champions Livingston and East Kilbride to take the title.
Glasgow’s league triumph was their third in four years, but they were made to sweat for it as their two close rivals pushed them all the way to the final round of matches.
Both Glasgow and Livingston went on to represent Scotland in the British play-offs, and both claimed victories in over English opposition to reach the final. Glasgow came from behind to win 31:26 and complete a treble of titles, adding to their Scottish league and Cup success.