National Champions 2016/17 – Men Part 1: North-West
As the 2016/17 season comes to an end and European cup champions are named, it is also time for domestic celebrations as new teams claim national titles and others defend their crowns.
Part one of the six-part series on national champions focuses on north-west Europe, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland and England.
Aalborg claim third title in history
After winning in 2010 and 2013, 2017 saw Aalborg Handball become Danish champions for the third time in history.
Aalborg won the league but only after encountering trouble in the group phase, where a last-second equaliser for a final score of 25:25 away against GOG secured the point that proved enough for the champions to reach the semi-final.
The semi-finals and final were played as ‘best of three’ this year, and in the semis, Aalborg needed all three matches to eliminate defending champions Bjerringbro-Silkeborg. Aalborg won the first match 28:26 at home, only to lose 29:27 away. In the third match on home ground however, Aalborg left no doubt, winning clearly at 31:23 to be ready for the final against Skjern Handbold.
Having won the league, Aalborg had the home advantage in the potential three-match contest once again, but Skjern had the mental edge of having won the Danish Cup Final Four on Aalborg’s home ground earlier in the season.
In the first match in Aalborg’s Jutlander Bank Arena packed with 5,020 spectators, Aalborg had the upper hand most of the time, but in the last minute Skjern claimed their first lead in the match at 26:25. However, an equaliser in the dying seconds meant a 26:26 draw – and also meant that a possible winner of the second leg in Skjern Bank Arena would be champion.
This time, Aalborg won 32:25 and took their third title, while Skjern are left with only one – won in their maiden season in the top flight back in 1998/99.
The big star in the finals was Aalborg’s Norwegian international Sander Sagosen, who will continue his career with Paris Saint-Germain from next season.
“It is about time I move on. I have had too much Danish rye bread during my three years in Denmark!” Sagosen said.
Hat-trick by Kristianstad
When IFK Kristianstad became Swedish champions in 2015, it was the first time in 62 years that the club from the southern part of the country won the title.
In 2017, former national coach and player Ola Lindgren’s men won the championship for the third time in succession.
What was even more special was the fact that Kristianstad’s opponents in the final were the same team they had faced three years in a row – 2014 champions Alingsas HK.
While quarter-finals and semi-finals in the Swedish play-offs are always played ‘best of five’, the final is just one match. This year, the final took place in Malmo Arena on Saturday May 27. Both teams only needed three matches to eliminate their semi-final opponents, with Kristianstad defeating Ystads IF and Alingsas beating Sävehof.
In the final, Kristianstad were clearly the dominant side. After leading 18:11 at half-time, they won the match with a final score of 31:25, and could call themselves Swedish champions and VELUX EHF Champions League participants for the third year in a row.
Double win for Elverum
For the third time in succession Elverum won the play-off in Norway, and this season, claimed the league title as well. ØIF Arendal won the league for the last two years before Elverum took both titles in 2017.
However, Elverum had some trouble in the final, where their opponents were none other than former back-to-back league winners Arendal.
Arendal won the first match away 24:21, but after Elverum claimed victory in the second leg with a score of 30:29 on away ground, they took the title with a 25:20 at home in the third, deciding match.
The triumph led Elverum to tweet a picture of the full LANXESS Arena on the final day of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 with the text: “We did not manage to make it there this year, but this autumn, we will make another try!”
Valur need all five matches to claim the title
Valur had a rather fine season. Not only did the Reykjavik-based club reach the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, but they also won the Icelandic championship, as they reclaimed the title from one of their arch rivals, Haukar.
However, Valur had to play the maximum of five matches in the final series before the title was theirs, and it was not Haukar that troubled them this time.
Instead, it was another of Iceland’s traditional clubs, FH Hafnafjordur, that challenged Valur to an equal final series, which was peculiar in the way that all five matches ended with away wins.
Valur opened the series by winning 28:24 away, then it was Hafnafjordur’s turn to claim a 28:25 victory on Valur’s home ground before Valur took another away win at 29:24.
Hafnarfjordur then recorded a 30:25 away victory, creating the chance to win and celebrate the title at home in the fifth and deciding match on May 21. But once again it was the away team that were triumphant. Valur won 27:20 and were crowned champions.
H71 win the league and the final
The season became a double triumph for H71. First, they won the domestic league four points ahead of their closest rivals VÍF, then they were victorious in the two-leg final of the championship against the very same opponent.
H71 won the first leg of the final on away ground narrowly at 28:27, then left considerably less doubt in the return match at home, with a 26:21 victory.
Two players were in focus when H71 won the championship: Peter Krogh and Jónas Djurhuus both scored 11 goals over the two final matches. Krogh and Djurhuus will leave H71 and the Faroe Islands after this season, as they have signed on for Danish second league clubs. Krogh will join Skive FH, while Djurhuus is going to HØJ Ølstykke, north of Copenhagen.
HB Esch repeat 2002 success
HB Esch made a true statement in the league and the Cup: following their win in 2002, the team of former Greek international Alexandros Vasilakis took the double in Luxembourg.
After winning the Cup final tournament, the former EHF Challenge Cup finalists dominated the last round of the league with nine wins and only one defeat – 27:36 at Kaerjeng in Bascharage.
Three rounds before the end of the competition, the team from near the French border claimed their eighth national championship – and have since applied for a wild card entry to the VELUX EHF Champions League.
German born coach Holger Schneider, who also led the team to their first double victory in 2002, said farewell to HB Esch due to business reasons: “It was the right time to leave a squad full of character and will. But in my new job I have no time for handball anymore.”
At the end of the season Esch were 6.5 points ahead of Cup finalist and runners-up Berchem, and seven points in front of defending champions Red Boys Differdange.
OCI Lions extend winning streak with third straight title
Under new coach Mark Schmetz, OCI Lions remained the dominant force in the Dutch Eredivisie. They edged Schmetz’ former club, seven-time national champions Kras Volendam, by just one goal (28:27) in the third and decisive game of their play-off series, and also won the Dutch Cup.
The Lions just missed out on another prize as they suffered an agonising 38:37 defeat in the BENE-League final against the champions of Belgium, Achilles Bocholt.
The Lions will enter the qualification phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League again in 2017/18 after they had to go straight into the EHF Cup this season following a significant drop by the Netherlands in the EHF coefficient rank.
Bocholt see off Tongeren to successfully defend national title
National team captain Arber Qerimi has had an excellent farewell season in the Belgian Eerste Klasse. The Callant Tongeren centre back, who is moving to Cesson-Rennes in France for next season, has been voted Player of the Year.
However, Qerimi failed to win any prizes with his club as Tongeren lost the play-offs to Achilles Bocholt, which retained the domestic championship title following their maiden triumph a year ago.
Bocholt also took the Belgian Cup, and put the icing on the cake by winning the BeNe-League.
Dublin City win maiden title
Only two years after their formation, Dublin City Handball Club claimed the IOHA Senior Men’s League 2016/17 title following a near-perfect season. Out of eight matches played in the regular season, the team lost only one – 28:31 at home versus Dublin International Handball Club at the end of January.
Three-time champions Dublin International lost their chance to reclaim the title when they were defeated in the semi-final stage by Astra HC. Dublin City beat UCD in their semi-final 38:23, before proceeding to the final where they won 26:18 against Astra.
“This is a great achievement for our club and we hope to build on it for next season. Astra are a good team and it was a great final between us,” said Dublin City goalkeeper Andrew Maher.
Livingston claim first title with undefeated season
The Scottish men’s league saw first-time winners this season, with young side Livingston winning every single match en route to the title.
Tryst 77 and Edinburgh were the closest challengers to the club from West Lothian, but a 31:27 win over local rivals Edinburgh in the penultimate match secured the championship.
Livingston went on to win the double, overcoming Tryst in the final to cap a perfect season for the side coached by former British international and Olympic referee Allan Stokes.
Warrington Wolves win the double
Warrington Wolves defeated West London Eagles 30:23 in the last match of the Super 8 – Men’s League to claim the title early in May, before winning the England Handball National Cup on May 21.
The Wolves won the Cup final 45:22 against NEM Hawks, after claiming the Cup title at the end of the 2015/16 season as well. The Hawks also finished second in the Super 8.
“It is a great achievement this year, particularly with all the injuries we have had,” said Wolves coach Bill Baillie following the Super 8 victory. “After the Cup win last year we felt we had the potential to go on and challenge for the Super 8.”